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Crashing the Legislative Ladies Club

I didn’t know there was such a thing as a Legislative Ladies Club, but now that I do I’m glad to hear that it’s adapting with the times.

Rep. Julie Johnson

Julie Johnson knew she’d made history in November as one of the first two openly gay lawmakers from Dallas County elected to the Legislature on the same night.

But she didn’t expect her wife, Susan Moster, to make history of her own a few weeks later when she became the first same-sex spouse invited to join the Legislative Ladies Club, a social group made up of the spouses of the members of the Texas House.

Although it’s called the Legislative Ladies Club — a remnant of when only men held political office in the state — the group also includes male spouses. Because the group requires members to be legally married and same-sex marriage only became legal in Texas after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015, Moster became the first same-sex spouse admitted into the group in November.

She and Johnson married in 2014 in San Francisco but celebrated their 12th anniversary as a couple on New Year’s Eve. Johnson will be the first married openly gay lawmaker in the Texas Legislature’s history.

“It’s wonderful,” Johnson said. “I’m really proud to be in the Legislature. I’m proud to show the world that LGBT families are just like them. We get married, we have kids, we celebrate the same losses and tragedies in our lives as everyone else.”

Although she is the first same-sex spouse in the club’s 31-year history, Moster said her membership is a sign that even people in the highest positions of power in the state are becoming more accepting of same-sex couples.

[…]

Johnson and Moster didn’t know the group existed until they received a formal invitation from the group addressed to “Dr. Susan Moster” inviting her to Austin for an orientation session. (Moster is a physician.)

While Johnson joined newly elected lawmakers in an orientation session, Moster and the other new legislative spouses got a crash course in campaign finance and ethics to make sure they knew how to avoid inadvertent troubles.

Moster also learned about group members’ other responsibilities, such as taking charge of the annual Christmas ornaments that each of the 150 Texas House districts produces, participating in the Easter egg hunt at the Governor’s Mansion, and deciding what local food or drink to bring to the annual “Taste of Texas” luncheon highlighting the cuisines of each district. The group also holds regular meetings during the session.

The LLC was formed in 1987 – there’s a Senate Ladies Club that dates back to 1917 – and as noted now includes husbands. I couldn’t find a webpage with the membership of the State House in 1987, but at the very least we know Rep. Senfronia Thompson was there. I wonder what she thought of this at the time. Anyway, the LLC seems like a nice enough thing despite its anachronistic name, and a little extra diversity for it is a fine development. Welcome to the club, Dr. Moster.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that the Legislative Reference Library can address my question about how many female members of the House there were in 1987. By my count, the answer to that question is 15, which is frankly higher than I thought it would be. This includes such familiar names as Debra Danburg, Wilhemina Delco, Lena Guerrero, Irma Rangel, and of course the aforementioned Miss T. So now you (and I) know.

Have you started avoiding the 59/610 interchange yet?

Better get started.

I-69 at the 610 West Loop is a traffic hot spot in Houston. The two freeway segments that meet at the interchange top the list of the most congested in Texas, according to the Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

Danny Perez, a spokesman for TxDOT, says a project the Department has already started is designed to eliminate a lot of the weaving motions that lead to crashes in the hot spot. They want to give drivers more time to make decisions before they have to merge.

“You’ll have increased capacity on connector ramps for instance,” explained Perez. “So if you’re going 610 northbound to 69 going northbound you’ll have a wider connector that will be set further back.”

The project includes higher and wider ramps along with other improvements. Perez says the work could take up five to six years but they’re hoping to finish sooner.

Emphasis mine. See here and here for the background. Note that this is happening as the construction of an elevated busway is already happening. A couple of weeks ago on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly on Houston Matters, I opined that the end of the construction on 290 just meant that roadwork would shift elsewhere, as roadwork never truly ends but is conserved. It’s like one of the laws of the universe or something. If anyone who was listening to that thought I was joking, well, now you know. Godspeed to us all.

Meet KP George

He’s the new Fort Bend County Judge.

KP George

In December, that strange suspended-in-motion month between his election and taking office, K.P. George was checking out the quaint old domed Fort Bend County Courthouse, soon to be his domain. In November, to the surprise of almost everyone outside his campaign, George had been elected Fort Bend’s county judge — which is to say, the top boss of one of the United States’ fastest-growing counties, with 765,000 residents, nearly 3,000 employees, and an annual budget over $370 million.

When George takes office on Jan. 1, he’ll become arguably the most powerful Indian-American in U.S. government — as well as a potent symbol of the new Fort Bend, and of Asian-Americans’ growing power in Texas and American politics.

[…]

And still, to most political insiders, George’s election came as a surprise. “He was not someone on our radar,” said Gautam Raghavan, executive director of the Indian-American Impact Fund. “It wasn’t a race we engaged in. In hindsight, that’s a lesson for us: In some of these places with fast-shifting demographics, like the Texas suburbs, there are huge opportunities for us.”

“For Republicans in Fort Bend County, Donald Trump is a real liability,” [Rice poli-sci professor Mark] Jones said. “Socially and fiscally conservative Asian-Americans used to vote for more Republicans. But Trump’s rhetoric and policies are seen as anti-immigrant — anti-Latino, but also anti-Asian.”

“Many Trump administration policies, such as targeting Muslims as terrorists, don’t play well with Asian-Americans…. Indian-Americans may not love Pakistanis, but the same racial discrimination that targets Pakistanis targets them.

“In Fort Bend, there was a double whammy for Republicans. A much larger proportion of Asian-Americans voted for Democrats, and Asian-Americans also turned out at a much higher rate than they had previously.”

Observers have long predicted that Texas’ changing demographics will eventually turn the most Republican of states into one that’s more bipartisan or even reliably Democratic. That’s already true of Texas’ cities. Now the battles have shifted to the suburbs.

Notably, George is a Democrat. “It’s a historic election for Texas,” said Jones — Fort Bend is the first exurb to elect a Democrat to the top of its county government. “It could portend the future for diverse counties such as Denton and Collin.”

I’m honestly surprised that this race wasn’t on the radar of any national organizations like the Indian-American Impact Fund. George was not a novice politician – he’d been twice elected to the Fort Bend ISD board of trustees. Fort Bend had been trending Dem for some time, and fit in every way the profile of the suburban, diverse, won-by-Hillary-in-2016 Congressional districts that were so hotly contested. Outgoing Judge Bob Hebert had served for a long time, but didn’t have the bipartisan cred that Ed Emmitt had, which might have helped him ride out the wave. This race should have been seen as a prime opportunity, and if it wasn’t that was a failure of imagination.

And yes, I believe this is a leading indicator for other suburban counties. Williamson County didn’t elect anyone countywide despite being carried by Beto O’Rourke, MJ Hegar, and Justin Nelson, but it did elect two Democratic State Reps and two JPs, while a Dem County Commissioner candidate fell just short. Dems didn’t carry any race in Denton or Collin, but elected a State Rep in Denton while just missing on two in Collin, and a JP in Denton County. It was a big step forward. There are no guarantees for 2020, of course, but the obstacle of credibility – the belief that it’s really possible a Dem could win – has been cleared. That can only help.

How legal pot affects Texas

It has many effects.

In just two weeks in October, the legal landscape for marijuana use in North America changed dramatically.

First, Canada opened sales of legalized pot for recreational use, and then Mexico’s high court delivered a definitive ruling that citizens have the right to possess the weed for their personal use. That leaves Texas virtually surrounded by states that allow marijuana for medical use — but not for recreational purposes — as well as being sandwiched between two neighboring countries that have liberalized their stance on personal usage of the drug.

And while the Lone Star State is a long way from following the example of Canada and Mexico, there seems to be growing support for at least reducing stiff criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of the weed. Currently, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by a six-month jail term and a $2,000 fine.

“Even in Texas, public opinion seems to have shifted from criminalization to at least decriminalization, with strengthening support for legalization,” said Nora Demleitner, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia and the lead author of the textbook “Sentencing: Law and Policy.”

[…]

Despite the criminal penalties, Texas has two of the Top 10 consumer cities in the country. Houston occupies the fourth spot with an estimated 21 metric tons of weed consumed last year, after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, according to the 2018 Cannabis Price Index from the German company Seedo, which tracks the market around the world. Dallas is number seven with 15 metric tons.

That high demand in Houston and elsewhere in Texas, some experts say, is not being met by traditional drug smuggling networks alone.

“Today in Texas, consumers easily find a wider variety of cannabis products than a few years ago coming from all over the place,” said Dean Becker, a Baker Institute contributing expert in drug policy.

Becker explained that states like Colorado, California and Oregon are growing more than their markets can absorb, and smugglers are flourishing moving the merchandise to other marketplaces. Mexico, he said, isn’t the main Texas supplier anymore as their producers are struggling to compete with the higher quality of U.S. grown products.

[…]

“The cannabis industry is a job creator, which Mexico and Canada realize, and it also cuts into the portfolio of criminals by making its use and sale a legitimate business that (creates) jobs and revenue,” said Grissom, the former federal prosecutor.

Grissom says Colorado is a good example, which reported total cannabis sales of $1.5 billion in 2017, and a staggering $5.7 billion since sales began in January 2014, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

“These funds did not go to criminals but to entrepreneurs who created over 20,000 new full-time jobs that paid a living wage as well as a new source of (tax) revenue for the state,” he said.

Overall, “the nascent U.S. cannabis market is already double the size of Canada’s, at $8.5 billion dollars,” said Brad Alexander, a senior adviser at McGuireWoods Consulting, a public policy advisory firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He predicts that by 2022, this market could top $20 billion.

As the story notes, multiple DAs, mostly in big counties, are now de-emphasizing pot prosecutions, and Texas legalized – in a very limited way – a form of medical marijuana. Greg Abbott has made some comments recently about supporting a reduction in penalties for possession, but I’ll believe that when I see an anointed bill that is supposed to accomplish that. As for the prospects for legalization, I’ll just note that the arguments for it – economic benefit, especially as we are currently losing business from Texans who want to engage in it to neighboring states – sound an awful lot to me like the perennial arguments for expanded gambling. I don’t need to tell you how successful that pursuit has been. I think some small reforms by the Lege, with broader reforms pushed at the county level, will happen. Beyond that, keep your hopes in check.

Rep. Justin Rodriguez resigns to take County Commissioner job

We will need that special election.

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

State Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, is leaving the Legislature to become a Bexar County commissioner.

The county’s judge, Nelson Wolff, appointed Rodriguez on Friday to replace Paul Elizondo, the longtime commissioner who died last week. The appointment creates a vacancy in Rodriguez’s House District 125, paving the way for a special election to finish his term.

Rodriguez was immediately sworn after Wolff announced the appointment at a news conference.

“I wanted someone that had the confidence of the citizens and voters of County Commissioner Precinct 2,” Wolff said, alluding to Rodriguez’s long record of public service in the area. “Justin Rodriguez has certainly exemplified that in a very important way.”

[…]

The special election for Rodriguez’s seat would be the fourth such contest since the November elections. State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, won the special election last month to replace former state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston — now a congresswoman — while Gov. Greg Abbott has set Jan. 29 special elections to fill the seats of Alvarado and state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who is resigning due to health issues.

The 86th legislative session begins Tuesday, and Rodriguez said he was confident his seat would be filled before the session kicks into high gear in March. He told reporters he did not have a preference for who should succeed him.

See here for the background. My guess is that we’ll get an election in early February, with a runoff if needed in late March. Not optimal, but it is what it is. As I said before, this district is moderately blue, not dark blue, so the eventual election is not a slam dunk for the Dems. Unity, if there is a D-versus-R runoff following an initial race with multiple Ds, and turnout will be the key to not punting this seat. The Rivard Report and the Current have more.

Eight file for HD145

It’s a big field.

Sen. Carol Alvarado

Eight candidates filed by Thursday’s 5 p.m. deadline for the Jan. 29 special election to fill the Texas House seat vacated by Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. Early voting begins Jan. 14, a little more than a month after Alvarado won an open spot in the upper chamber.

The field consists of six Democrats — Elias De La Garza, Oscar Del Toro, Ruben Gonsalez, Christina Morales, Alfred Moreno and Melissa Noriega — Libertarian Clayton Hunt and Republican Martha Fierro, the third-place finisher in last month’s race for Senate District 6, which overlaps with part of Alvarado’s old House district.

[…]

Morales, the president and CEO of an East End funeral home, announced her candidacy the day after Alvarado’s win.

“I definitely feel like I’m well connected to the constituents of District 145. I know them intimately, especially through my business,” she said. “We hear their stories daily. We help them through their darkest hour.”

Morales has assembled a campaign team made up of Alvarado’s staffers, including consultant Jaime Mercado, lead strategist Marc Campos and campaign manager Linh Nguyen.

“I wanted a team that knew the district the way I know the district and would be capable of delivering my messages,” she said.

Noriega previously held the House District 145 seat when her then-husband, Rick Noriega, was deployed to Afghanistan during the 2005 legislative session. The thought of running entered her mind in 2017, when former U.S. Rep. Gene Green announced he would retire, setting off a chain reaction that ultimately left the seat open.

Part of Noriega’s pitch, she said, is that the special election winner will be sworn in amid a session that spans just 140 days — and she would be able to assimilate quickly because of her experience, she said.

“There are still people there that I know from before,” she said, mentioning presumptive House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican.

Noriega has also served as an at-large member of Houston City Council and worked for Houston ISD, while keeping an eye on the Legislature from afar.

“Last session, there was a lot of time spent on things that probably don’t benefit Texas,” she said. “There’s an opportunity to work with people and be collegial in a way that’s productive. That I think is still there.”

I’m going to say two things up front. One is that I’m not going to have time to do interviews before early voting starts. In the likely event of a runoff, I will see about doing interviews with the two finalists. And two, as someone who lives in HD145, I’m voting for Melissa Noriega. She’s a dear friend, she’s been there before, she was an excellent member of City Council, I trust her completely. I see no point in being coy about that.

I fully expect this race to be very low turnout – candidates may have been thinking about running for weeks, but no one has been campaigning before now, and early voting starts in just over a week. Turnout will be higher in the runoff, as there will be more time for the campaigns to develop and focus voters’ attention. It’ll still be low, but it will be higher than the January election. This is one of those times where endorsements will make a difference, as they will serve as one of the few things people will be able to hear about the candidates before they have to vote. For those of you in HD145, which needless to say includes a lot of people who just went through the SD06 special election, it’s time to get ready to vote again. The Trib, which also has the lineup for the HD79 special election, has more.

Greg Abbott to HISD: Drop dead

I have four things to say about this.

A post sent from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Twitter account Thursday lambasted Houston ISD’s leadership as “a disaster” that has failed children in the state’s largest school district — a rare public condemnation of the district from the state’s top executive.

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster,” read a tweet posted from Abbott’s official account. “Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed, it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

The comments come as HISD faces potentially major sanctions, including a state takeover of its locally elected school board, tied to chronically low academic results at four schools. They also come as HISD’s board of trustees has been bombarded with criticism in recent months for its acrimonious public displays and its widely-panned effort to covertly oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

[…]

The post linked to a commentary authored by three community members and printed in the Houston Chronicle that criticized Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s efforts to partner with HISD to operate several long-struggling schools. The authors of the commentary also argued for taking legal action against the Texas Education Agency to prevent a state takeover of HISD’s board of trustees.

[…]

Abbott’s education commissioner, Mike Morath, must replace HISD’s school board or close underperforming schools if any one of four long-struggling campuses fail to meet state academic standards in 2019. Earlier comments by Morath and his deputy commissioner of governance, AJ Crabill, suggest Morath is more likely to install a replacement school board instead of shuttering any under-performing schools.

1. Just a reminder, the HISD Board is composed entirely of Democrats right now. Throwing them out of office is all dessert and no vegetables as far as Abbott is concerned.

2. Along those lines, remember that Abbott was just re-elected by over a million votes. He’s got the highest approval rating of any statewide elected official. He doesn’t face voters again until 2022. He could not possibly care less what a bunch of Pantsuit Nation or Indivisible members think, about this or about himself. There is no amount of activism or noise-making that will affect his opinions or his actions.

3. Again, this is why I have been extremely queasy about the all-or-nothing strategy that HISD has adopted, at the urging of some activists. I continue to believe that a TEA takeover is the worst possible outcome, and a partnership – if not with the city of Houston, then with HCC, which was never explored and now cannot be explored – for the purposes of forestalling such a takeover is a reasonable way to mitigate this risk. I understand that people have strong objections to this. I’m not here to relitigate that question, as the matter is settled. I’m just stating what my risk-averse nature is telling me. But look, none of this matters now. We’re not going to win a staredown with Abbott over this. He holds all the cards.

4. As for the litigation idea, someone is going to need to explain to me 1) on what grounds we would sue at this time, prior to a takeover, and 2) why a lawsuit filed in advance of a TEA takeover would be allowed to proceed. A lawsuit filed afterwards I understand, as then an alleged injury that the courts could correct has occurred. But before that, I feel confident that a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the issue is not ripe and no one yet has standing would be accepted. As always, I Am Not A Lawyer, so if someone knows better than me on this, please say so. The Trib has more.

We may soon need another legislative special election

In Bexar County.

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

State Rep. Justin Rodriguez is expected to fill the vacant Commissioners Court seat of political icon Paul Elizondo, a major local power broker and a veteran of the commission for more than 30 years who died last week.

Multiple sources said Wednesday that Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff likely will appoint Rodriguez, who’s served in the Legislature since 2013.

Wolff declined to confirm that he plans to appoint Rodriguez, but he sketched out what he’s looking for in a successor, in deference to the death of his closest friend. Rodriguez declined to comment.

“I’ve had obviously a lot of time to think about this because Paul has had several challenges with his health,” Wolff said.

The county judge said he plans to appoint someone who has legislative experience and fiscal expertise and can help improve the county’s relationship with the city.

[…]

It’s unclear who might step in to run in a special election for Rodriguez’s seat, which would be called by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Rodriguez and a few other close allies of Elizondo have been seen as his potential successors. Among them: City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales and former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who’d known Elizondo for some four decades.

We should know pretty soon whether Rep. Rodriguez will be the choice to fill that County Commissioners seat. You may recall from when Jerry Eversole stepped down, it is the County Judge who names the successor, so whatever Judge Wolff decides is what will happen. The Rivard Report makes it sound like the choice is more up in the air, and includes Queta Rodriguez, a former employee of Precinct 2 who nearly ousted Elizondo in the 2018 primary, as a potential pick as well.

Rodriguez represents HD125 in Bexar County; he was elected in 2012 after Joaquin Castro decided to run for Congress. After a decade of turnover, he’s the second-most senior member of the Bexar delegation, after Rep. Roland Gutierrez. HD125 was solidly Democratic in 2016, as Hillary Clinton carried it 61-33, but it was closer in 2014 as Wendy Davis took it by a 56-43 margin. If he gets appointed and this becomes a race, I’d expect the Republicans to seriously challenge it. The Dems would be favored to hold it, but it would not be a slam dunk. Keep an eye on this.

Our freshman legislators

Good luck, y’all.

Gina Calanni

When the Legislature convenes in Austin on Jan. 8, Harris County’s House delegation will include two new Democrats who flipped seats long held by Republican lawmakers.

Last month, state Rep.-elects Gina Calanni, D-Katy, and Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, knocked off two-term state Rep. Mike Schofield and 12-term veteran Rep. Gary Elkins, respectively.

Both wins demonstrated the changing political makeup of Harris County’s fast-growing west suburbs, areas that played a major role in turning the county solidly blue during the midterms. Republicans are sure to take aim at the seats in 2020 and beyond, though Calanni and Rosenthal say they recognize the conservative constituencies in their districts and plan to focus on issues that work for both sides of the political aisle.

“I won my district with 50.8 percent. The Republican guy got 47.7,” said Rosenthal, who considers himself a progressive Democrat. “So, I had a 3-point margin, which means I represent a district that’s pretty much 50-50. I feel like, no matter what I have in my heart, I have to represent the district 50-50. That’s what the job is.”

Jon Rosenthal

Both new lawmakers undoubtedly were bolstered by a combination of favorable trends for Democrats, including an unpopular Republican president and galvanizing Democrats running at the top of the ticket and in an overlapping congressional district.

Still, if the political forces of President Donald Trump, Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Rep.-elect Lizzie Pannill Fletcher helped the two Democrats get near the finish line, their campaigns helped them cross it. Calanni, for instance, personally knocked on more than 10,000 doors in the 132nd District and raised nearly $139,000 in the month or so before the election.

[…]

Calanni, 41, and Rosenthal, 55, both say they will focus on the topic that appears set to dominate the legislative session: reforming how the state funds public education. The two Democrats made it a top issue of their races, with Rosenthal putting “the focus of the campaign” on his calls for the state to kick in more funds for public education.

Calanni, a former bankruptcy and tax paralegal in the Travis County attorney’s office, considers herself a moderate and said she previously has voted for candidates from both parties. She was among the numerous candidates who joined the political fray for the first time in 2018 after growing upset over the divisiveness between the two parties.

“I definitely identify as a Democrat, but I think there are a lot of things, especially on a local level, that are not really separated into party issues,” she said.

Calanni’s campaign focused on topics that fit that description: flood control and mitigation, sex trafficking and, foremost, the need to reform education funding.

“When I’m knocking on a door and talking to people that I know are Republicans, then I talk specifically about public education and that we don’t have enough funding for it,” she said.

Already, Calanni plans to introduce legislation that would address sex trafficking, a pervasive issue in Houston and one that has drawn the attention of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike. Before she ran for office, Calanni worked for several nonprofits focused on the issue.

Calanni said she would aim to provide work programs to teach job skills to sex trafficking victims, similar to an initiative already operating in Harris County. Calanni also wants to provide counseling services for victims and to strengthen business licensing requirements to prevent businesses from operating as brothels.

[…]

Looking ahead to the session in Austin, Rosenthal intends to play a role in the effort to reform public education funding, but also hopes to introduce legislation to regulate how much interest payday lenders can charge. The measure would reverse some of the regulations lifted by Elkins, who owns several payday lending businesses and authored bills to lift interest caps on payday loans.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is as follows:

1. Serving in the Lege is a job and should be treated as one. Show up on time and every day unless you have a good reason not to (illness, family emergency, that sort of thing), prepare for the day’s agenda and know what’s on the horizon, don’t miss votes, and file all your campaign finance and financial disclosure forms accurately and on time. Basically, don’t commit the kind of stupid self-inflicted harm that will make it easy for your 2020 opponent to run against you.

2. Similarly, be as true to the things you said you wanted to do on the campaign trail as you can be. Introduce the bills you said you would introduce – and be sure they are in good shape – and work to get them a committee hearing or a place on the local and consent calendar. Support the type of bills you said you would support, and oppose the type of bills you said you would oppose. Give your supporters a reason to feel good about having backed you, and don’t give anyone else a reason to think you’re just another “say and do anything to get elected” politician.

3. Do constituent services very well. Phone calls are answered or returned promptly. Emails are acknowledged and responded to. People who ask for it can get time on your calendar. Your staffers all have answers or know how to get them, and when they’re asked about things that are not in your office’s purview, they know how to point teh asker in the right direction. Basically, make sure everyone who contacts your office feels like they were listened to and taken seriously.

You get the idea. None of this is a guarantee of anything for 2020. As we well know, the national environment has an outsized impact on all elections. Do the basics well, avoid the obvious pitfalls, be the person you said you’d be when you ran in the first place, and you’ll have done your best to be the kind of candidate who outperforms the baseline in their district. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Lina Hidalgo officially sworn in

It’s Judge Hidalgo now, thank you very much.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Ushering in a new era of Democratic rule, Lina Hidalgo took the oath of office as Harris County judge early Tuesday, becoming the first Latina and first woman to lead the nation’s third-largest county.

Her swearing in minutes past midnight by 151st Civil Court Judge Mike Engelhart capped the remarkable rise of Hidalgo, 27, who just two months ago was a graduate student making her first bid for public office against a popular incumbent.

She takes charge as chief executive overseeing thousands of employees and an annual budget of more than $5 billion. Hidalgo will also lead the county’s Office of Emergency Management, which has already responded to 23 floods this century.

Hidalgo was joined by her parents and other family members. She succeeds longtime County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican who steered a massive Hurricane Harvey bond package to passage before being swept out of office in November after 11 years.

She said the greatest challenge during her transition to office has been knowing where to start.

“There’s just so much enthusiasm in the community and in the meetings I have,” Hidalgo said. “There’s this incredible desire to bring in new ideas and breathe in new energy.”

Hidalgo was one of scores of Democrats who unseated Republicans in November in a sweep of countywide positions that brought more than 50 civil and criminal judges and other top leaders into key positions. Of the 81 officials at the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday at NRG Center, only Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and a justice of the peace were Republicans.

I just want to pause here for a moment so the full impact of that last sentence can settle in on you. The forecast is for more of the same in the foreseeable future.

Hidalgo, who campaigned on making county government more accessible to the public, announced a massive engagement effort. With support from Houston Endowment Inc. and the Ford Foundation, she said Harris County will circulate a survey asking residents how government can be improved.

The Talking Transition program will also include workshops educating residents on how county government functions and town hall forums on topics such as education, housing and transportation.

Several key positions in Hidalgo’s administration remain unfilled, including communication and policy directors. She said her staff continues to vet candidates with the help of a consulting firm that also assisted the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Hidalgo said she hopes to work with commissioners to quickly settle the federal lawsuit challenging Harris County’s cash bail system. The protracted legal wrangling over the suit — and its $7 million cost to taxpayers so far — has long frustrated Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who until now was the lone Democrat on Commissioners Court.

“Like many, I’m hopeful that 2019 will be the year the county settles the lawsuit and ceases its defense of an unconstitutional, unsafe cash bail system,” Ellis wrote in an email to constituents Tuesday.

I for damn sure want to see a settlement, and I want it to be a high priority. I don’t know what the court’s calendar looks like, but I see no reason why there can’t be an agreement in principle between the parties by the end of Q1 2019.

As fort the transition stuff, this is from the inbox on January 1:

Judge Hidalgo’s initiative, Talking Transition: Harris County, will provide a forum for residents to discuss the issues that matter most to them, learn about County government, and weigh in on pressing public policy matters.

The first program of its kind in Harris County, Talking Transition will allow Judge Hidalgo and her team to obtain a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the issues and ideas that most impact County residents, as they work to shape their agenda.

“Throughout my campaign, I pledged to increase transparency and accountability in Harris County government. Too few residents know how County government works and how to engage with it,” said Judge Lina Hidalgo. “For me, public service means ensuring that our most vulnerable residents have the same voice in our local government as the most powerful among us.”

Talking Transition: Harris County is expected to be the largest civic engagement program in the South. It is modeled after similar programs in New York and Washington, D.C., and made possible by the Houston Endowment and the Ford Foundation.

“Houston Endowment recognizes the value of community voice in good governance,” said Ann Stern, president and CEO of Houston Endowment. “By ensuring all voices are heard, we can continue to enhance our region’s assets, achieve equitable outcomes, and resolve issues that are important to the residents of Harris County.”

Talking Transition will address seven public policy areas – education, housing, transportation, resiliency, health, justice, and economic opportunity – through a series of public events across the County. The initiative includes a variety of ways for Harris County residents to interact with and learn more about their local government. The core components include:

Transparency Project: Announcements throughout the County will provide easily-digestible information about how County government works and eye-opening statistics intended to motivate residents to learn more.

Civic Saturdays: Offered at a seven locations around Harris County, Civic Saturdays are a series of full-day public events happening on consecutive Saturdays:

  • Civic School: Features classroom-style lessons for Harris County residents to learn about how County government works.
  • Town Halls: A large gathering organized around a specific policy area that will give residents a chance to share new ideas for improving their communities and to hear from others.
  • Action Plan Workshops: Smaller working groups for people who have devoted time to specific issues to focus on how to best realize community-driven ideas through County government.

Survey: Teams of canvassers will be spread throughout the County to ask residents about what needs to be improved among County services, what would help them engage more with County government, and what needs to be prioritized when it comes to prioritizing the County budget. The survey will also be available both online and at each Civic Saturday.

All Talking Transitions events are free and open to the public. A full schedule of activities will become available online at www.talkingtransition.us.

I’ll be very interested to see how that turns out. In the meantime, best of luck to Judge Hidalgo and all of the newly sworn-in officials.

The dino turtles of Buffalo Bayou

I love this story.

The creature didn’t growl and didn’t need to.

The alligator snapping turtle held menace enough in its massive, gaping jaws, which ended in a sharp beak poised like the fangs of an agitated rattlesnake. Its long, plump claws dug into the sand above thorny, wrinkled skin and a deeply-ridged carapace about the size of a large dinner platter.

Wildlife biologist Eric Munscher has wrangled bigger alligator snappers than the young, 42-pound male he hauled onto land Saturday with help from two assistants. But every one he finds matters, because he’s studying the species in a part of Houston so unlikely it has become the talk of the turtle world.

During the past two years, Munscher and his team have tagged 60 alligator snappers — officially Macrochelys temminckii — in an area no one expected to find them, along a nine-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou.

Munscher, who leads the Turtle Survival Alliance’s North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group, does not want to reveal exact study locations, to protect what he believes may be the largest population of alligator snapping turtles in Texas, and potentially one of the largest anywhere. And he believes the turtles have survived not in spite of, but because of, their heavily populated, citified surroundings. “They lucked into the whole metro thing,” he said. “It’s a good habitat, surprisingly, with a riparian shelf where females can climb up and lay eggs.”

Buffalo Bayou’s opaque brown waters have long yielded other scary-looking predators, including prehistoric-looking alligator gars and the occasional, actual gator. And there are plenty of other reasons not to swim there, including possible bacterial pollution.

“Nobody in their right mind would think of Buffalo Bayou as a refuge,” said Jordan Gray, a former Houston zookeeper and a collaborator on the study who now works at the Turtle Survival Alliance’s headquarters in Charleston, S.C. “It’s not this pristine habitat like the Upper Trinity River, but that’s what makes it so cool, to find this gem of a population.”

[…]

Munscher discovered the bayou’s turtles almost by accident through his day job with SWCA Environmental Consultants, while he was surveying wildlife across one of the city’s large parks. He put out turtle traps near the end of the study, not expecting to find anything special, and was astonished to haul up six alligator snappers.

Those first critters ranged from a 3-pound juvenile to a 96-pound male that could be 80 years old, which suggested an active breeding population.

Munscher contacted Texas Parks & Wildlife, which had not included Harris County in a previous survey of alligator snappers across East Texas, and secured a grant to purchase equipment for a long-term population study in Buffalo Bayou and associated watersheds of Harris and Fort Bend Counties. He is trapping, tagging and releasing turtles at least once a month — a task he plans to continue for 10 years.

“It’s an unheard of study for the species,” he said. “We want to do it because it’s such an unheard of habitat … . If you find a lot of turtles, it means they’re doing pretty well. Nobody’s done anything to them yet; they don’t have a lot of predation going on. We study them over time to see how and why they’re doing so well.”

The largest turtle species in the U.S. and largest hard-shelled turtles in the world, alligator snappers are native to swamps and rivers from Florida to southern Illinois. Experts can’t say how many of them still exist, but they know numbers have declined significantly in the past century, and conservationists have petitioned to have alligator snappers added to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species list.

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. The last time I blogged about alligator snapping turtles, it was because of a story that painted them as in dire straits as a species. This story is a much more pleasant surprise. I hope Munscher and crew find a thriving population in the Bayou.

Precinct analysis: The county candidates

Let’s just dive right in and have a look at the countywide candidates, shall we?


Dist   Emmett  Hidalgo Gatlin  Under  Emmett% Hidalgo% Gatlin%
==============================================================		
CD02  150,630  103,625  5,842  5,005   57.91%   39.84%   2.25%
CD07  135,016  100,412  4,967  4,819   56.16%   41.77%   2.07%
CD08   18,697    9,447    637    423   64.96%   32.82%   2.21%
CD09   28,593   88,998  2,100  2,138   23.89%   74.36%   1.75%
CD10   75,149   36,392  2,371  1,559   65.97%   31.95%   2.08%
CD18   49,933  129,017  4,024  3,463   27.29%   70.51%   2.20%
CD22   16,749   14,075    615    577   53.27%   44.77%   1.96%
CD29   35,187   79,825  2,027  2,255   30.06%   68.20%   1.73%
CD36   65,147   32,155  2,000  1,572   65.60%   32.38%   2.01%

SBOE6 324,964  237,414 12,576 11,692   56.52%   41.29%   2.19%

HD126  31,509   22,699  1,137    879   56.93%   41.01%   2.05%
HD127  43,967   22,708  1,428  1,003   64.56%   33.34%   2.10%
HD128  36,488   14,551    913    716   70.23%   28.01%   1.76%
HD129  39,456   23,578  1,434  1,218   61.20%   36.57%   2.22%
HD130  53,835   20,641  1,569  1,046   70.79%   27.14%   2.06%
HD131   8,046   33,121    717    658   19.21%   79.08%   1.71%
HD132  34,890   30,219  1,421    842   52.44%   45.42%   2.14%
HD133  46,358   23,211  1,452  1,532   65.27%   32.68%   2.04%
HD134  49,748   36,624  1,967  2,626   56.31%   41.46%   2.23%
HD135  28,937   25,825  1,142    804   51.76%   46.20%   2.04%
HD137   8,332   15,311    544    464   34.45%   63.30%   2.25%
HD138  25,835   21,425  1,035    914   53.49%   44.36%   2.14%
HD139  13,097   33,093    889    792   27.82%   70.29%   1.89%
HD140   5,999   17,238    371    438   25.41%   73.02%   1.57%
HD141   4,913   25,991    516    408   15.64%   82.72%   1.64%
HD142  10,202   28,780    661    570   25.73%   72.60%   1.67%
HD143   8,651   19,512    478    593   30.20%   68.13%   1.67%
HD144   9,710   13,289    432    384   41.44%   56.72%   1.84%
HD145  11,430   20,587    722    723   34.91%   62.88%   2.21%
HD146  10,903   31,500    849    870   25.21%   72.83%   1.96%
HD147  13,678   39,732  1,333  1,129   24.99%   72.58%   2.44%
HD148  20,031   26,116  1,339  1,374   42.18%   55.00%   2.82%
HD149  15,412   22,824    702    732   39.58%   58.62%   1.80%
HD150  43,674   25,371  1,532  1,096   61.88%   35.95%   2.17%

CC1    79,769  202,915  5,730  5,571   27.66%   70.36%   1.99%
CC2   116,353  106,823  4,548  4,096   51.09%   46.91%   2.00%
CC3   184,649  140,535  6,765  6,036   55.63%   42.34%   2.04%
CC4   194,330  143,673  7,540  6,108   56.24%   41.58%   2.18%

Ed Emmett was of course the best case scenario for Republicans. He won everywhere it was possible for a Republican to win. He won CD07 by fifteen points, which is a wider margin than John Culberson had in 2016. And with all that, he still didn’t win Harris County. This recalls what I was saying when we first saw poll numbers from CD07, which were showing a close race there. If Republicans, who had carried CD07 by double digits in 2016 and gotten shellacked in Harris County overall were now fighting to have any lead in CD07 in 2018, what did that portend for them countywide? Or statewide, for that matter. You can see how that played out, and why I keep hammering on the theme that the Republicans’ main problem in Harris County is that they are now badly outnumbered. There’s a potentially credible case to be made that Ed Emmett was harmed by straight ticket voting. He lost a close race, so any change of conditions might have helped him. But the notion that Republicans overall were harmed by it is laughable.

One other point: There were about 46K people who either voted Libertarian in this race or who did not vote at all. For Emmett to make up the almost-19,000 vote deficit he had against Lina Hidalgo, he’d have had to win a bit more than 70% of all those voters, if you could go back in time and identify them all and force them to pick their second choice. As it happens – I’m going to skip the table for this, so just trust me – the undervote rate, once you subtract out straight ticket voters, was higher in the Dem districts. That’s probably not the friendliest constituency for him to retroactively woo. Ed Emmett served Harris County with honor and dignity, and he leaves behind a distinguished record. He also lost, fair and square.


Dist  Stanart Trautman  Gomez  Under Stanart%   Traut%  Gomez%
==============================================================
CD02  135,427  116,744  6,717  6,221   52.31%   45.09%   2.59%
CD07  116,383  116,488  5,648  6,706   48.79%   48.84%   2.37%
CD08   17,784   10,221    679    520   62.00%   35.63%   2.37%
CD09   23,329   93,625  2,504  2,376   19.53%   78.37%   2.10%
CD10   71,172   39,707  2,623  1,970   62.71%   34.98%   2.31%
CD18   39,159  138,311  4,892  4,087   21.47%   75.84%   2.68%
CD22   15,265   15,184    857    711   48.76%   48.50%   2.74%
CD29   30,313   82,449  3,916  2,627   25.98%   70.66%   3.36%
CD36   60,467   35,918  2,452  2,036   61.18%   36.34%   2.48%

SBOE6 287,300  269,837 14,477 15,045   50.26%   47.21%   2.53%

HD126  29,277   24,586  1,293  1,074   53.08%   44.58%   2.34%
HD127  41,017   25,198  1,634  1,260   60.45%   37.14%   2.41%
HD128  34,735   15,876  1,142    915   67.12%   30.68%   2.21%
HD129  35,567   26,799  1,739  1,582   55.48%   41.80%   2.71%
HD130  51,064   22,942  1,722  1,365   67.43%   30.30%   2.27%
HD131   6,110   34,855    864    717   14.61%   83.33%   2.07%
HD132  32,579   32,090  1,680  1,023   49.10%   48.37%   2.53%
HD133  40,721   28,089  1,552  2,192   57.87%   39.92%   2.21%
HD134  37,977   47,211  2,090  3,692   43.51%   54.09%   2.39%
HD135  26,584   27,712  1,379  1,033   47.75%   49.77%   2.48%
HD137   7,257   16,167    678    552   30.11%   67.08%   2.81%
HD138  23,336   23,515  1,257  1,100   48.51%   48.88%   2.61%
HD139  10,545   35,238  1,128    961   22.48%   75.12%   2.40%
HD140   5,269   17,569    722    490   22.36%   74.57%   3.06%
HD141   3,921   26,852    622    438   12.49%   85.53%   1.98%
HD142   8,579   30,125    850    662   21.69%   76.16%   2.15%
HD143   7,405   20,178    952    699   25.95%   70.71%   3.34%
HD144   8,949   13,629    786    450   38.30%   58.33%   3.36%
HD145   9,596   21,809  1,226    834   29.41%   66.84%   3.76%
HD146   8,082   34,044    931  1,065   18.77%   79.07%   2.16%
HD147  10,013   42,972  1,576  1,316   18.35%   78.76%   2.89%
HD148  15,587   29,671  1,907  1,695   33.05%   62.91%   4.04%
HD149  14,042   23,985    859    785   36.11%   61.68%   2.21%
HD150  41,087   27,535  1,699  1,354   58.43%   39.16%   2.42%

CC1    61,603  218,965  6,875  6,563   21.43%   76.18%   2.39%
CC2   105,901  114,124  6,772  5,028   46.69%   50.32%   2.99%
CC3   164,601  157,515  7,843  8,035   49.89%   47.74%   2.38%
CC4   177,194  158,043  8,798  7,628   51.50%   45.94%   2.56%

Stan Stanart was very much on the low end of the spectrum for Republican candidates. Nearly every judicial candidate drew more votes than he did. Note in particular the stark difference between himself and Ed Emmett in HD134. The swing/lean R voters were not there for him. He was one of two countywide Rs to lose in HD138, though he did manage to carry HD132.


Dist   Daniel  Burgess  Under  Daniel% Burgess%
===============================================
CD02  141,260  116,519  7,334   54.80%   45.20%
CD07  123,371  114,006  7,852   51.97%   48.03%
CD08   18,163   10,443    598   63.49%   36.51%
CD09   24,355   94,774  2,710   20.44%   79.56%
CD10   72,943   40,231  2,301   64.45%   35.55%
CD18   41,900  139,805  4,756   23.06%   76.94%
CD22   15,794   15,389    836   50.65%   49.35%
CD29   31,677   84,520  3,107   27.26%   72.74%
CD36   62,225   36,222  2,429   63.21%   36.79%

SBOE6 301,347  267,739 17,585   52.95%   47.05%

HD126  30,045   24,900  1,285   54.68%   45.32%
HD127  42,379   25,207  1,525   62.70%   37.30%
HD128  35,350   16,229  1,092   68.54%   31.46%
HD129  37,093   26,728  1,868   58.12%   41.88%
HD130  52,331   23,186  1,577   69.30%   30.70%
HD131   6,394   35,330    823   15.32%   84.68%
HD132  33,433   32,741  1,199   50.52%   49.48%
HD133  43,049   26,936  2,570   61.51%   38.49%
HD134  42,398   44,322  4,252   48.89%   51.11%
HD135  27,386   28,119  1,204   49.34%   50.66%
HD137   7,631   16,369    654   31.80%   68.20%
HD138  24,200   23,659  1,351   50.57%   49.43%
HD139  11,114   35,635  1,125   23.77%   76.23%
HD140   5,450   18,021    577   23.22%   76.78%
HD141   4,114   27,220    501   13.13%   86.87%
HD142   8,918   30,566    735   22.59%   77.41%
HD143   7,755   20,637    843   27.31%   72.69%
HD144   9,208   14,084    524   39.53%   60.47%
HD145  10,182   22,269  1,012   31.38%   68.62%
HD146   8,681   34,241  1,203   20.23%   79.77%
HD147  11,052   43,323  1,504   20.33%   79.67%
HD148  17,008   29,859  1,996   36.29%   63.71%
HD149  14,449   24,305    918   37.28%   62.72%
HD150  42,068   28,023  1,585   60.02%   39.98%

CC1    66,296  220,197  7,525   23.14%   76.86%
CC2   109,601  116,240  5,988   48.53%   51.47%
CC3   172,133  156,516  9,354   52.38%   47.62%
CC4   183,658  158,956  9,056   53.60%   46.40%

Dist  Sanchez  Osborne  Under Sanchez% Osborne%
===============================================
CD02  143,554  114,652  6,909   55.60%   44.40%
CD07  125,682  112,399  7,148   52.79%   47.21%
CD08   18,412   10,220    571   64.31%   35.69%
CD09   25,189   94,006  2,646   21.13%   78.87%
CD10   73,755   39,560  2,159   65.09%   34.91%
CD18   43,632  138,230  4,601   23.99%   76.01%
CD22   16,131   15,097    791   51.66%   48.34%
CD29   33,727   82,733  2,854   28.96%   71.04%
CD36   62,909   35,668  2,300   63.82%   36.18%

SBOE6 306,826  263,570 16,277   53.79%   46.21%

HD126  30,564   24,473  1,195   55.53%   44.47%
HD127  42,897   24,755  1,459   63.41%   36.59%
HD128  35,601   16,037  1,033   68.94%   31.06%
HD129  37,714   26,225  1,750   58.98%   41.02%
HD130  52,878   22,739  1,475   69.93%   30.07%
HD131   6,681   35,063    801   16.00%   84.00%
HD132  33,941   32,283  1,150   51.25%   48.75%
HD133  43,732   26,575  2,250   62.20%   37.80%
HD134  43,286   43,737  3,949   49.74%   50.26%
HD135  27,906   27,692  1,112   50.19%   49.81%
HD137   7,819   16,212    622   32.54%   67.46%
HD138  24,737   23,257  1,216   51.54%   48.46%
HD139  11,586   35,228  1,060   24.75%   75.25%
HD140   5,833   17,684    533   24.80%   75.20%
HD141   4,259   27,067    509   13.60%   86.40%
HD142   9,169   30,316    735   23.22%   76.78%
HD143   8,184   20,271    782   28.76%   71.24%
HD144   9,529   13,786    502   40.87%   59.13%
HD145  10,827   21,703    936   33.28%   66.72%
HD146   9,038   33,897  1,190   21.05%   78.95%
HD147  11,483   42,904  1,494   21.11%   78.89%
HD148  17,912   29,056  1,897   38.14%   61.86%
HD149  14,769   24,032    872   38.06%   61.94%
HD150  42,646   27,573  1,457   60.73%   39.27%

CC1    68,703  217,956  7,362   23.97%   76.03%
CC2   112,338  113,891  5,610   49.66%   50.34%
CC3   175,031  154,383  8,589   53.13%   46.87%
CC4   186,919  156,335  8,418   54.46%   45.54%

Dist   Cowart    Cantu  Under  Cowart%   Cantu%
===============================================
CD02  136,367  120,574  8,171   53.07%   46.93%
CD07  116,611  119,973  8,648   49.29%   50.71%
CD08   17,953   10,600    651   62.88%   37.12%
CD09   23,168   95,724  2,949   19.49%   80.51%
CD10   71,965   41,047  2,462   63.68%   36.32%
CD18   39,150  142,169  5,144   21.59%   78.41%
CD22   15,358   15,745    916   49.38%   50.62%
CD29   29,829   86,321  3,165   25.68%   74.32%
CD36   60,960   37,258  2,656   62.07%   37.93%

SBOE6 288,532  278,836 19,307   50.85%   49.15%

HD126  29,470   25,363  1,399   53.75%   46.25%
HD127  41,600   25,816  1,693   61.71%   38.29%
HD128  34,987   16,505  1,177   67.95%   32.05%
HD129  35,892   27,731  2,065   56.41%   43.59%
HD130  51,661   23,756  1,677   68.50%   31.50%
HD131   6,016   35,627    904   14.45%   85.55%
HD132  32,893   33,181  1,299   49.78%   50.22%
HD133  40,783   28,895  2,879   58.53%   41.47%
HD134  37,785   48,422  4,767   43.83%   56.17%
HD135  26,756   28,684  1,269   48.26%   51.74%
HD137   7,294   16,661    699   30.45%   69.55%
HD138  23,374   24,339  1,497   48.99%   51.01%
HD139  10,484   36,185  1,205   22.46%   77.54%
HD140   5,165   18,317    569   22.00%   78.00%
HD141   3,963   27,323    549   12.67%   87.33%
HD142   8,541   30,867    813   21.67%   78.33%
HD143   7,319   21,069    849   25.78%   74.22%
HD144   8,953   14,300    564   38.50%   61.50%
HD145   9,481   22,947  1,038   29.24%   70.76%
HD146   8,001   34,803  1,322   18.69%   81.31%
HD147   9,954   44,255  1,671   18.36%   81.64%
HD148  15,471   31,235  2,158   33.12%   66.88%
HD149  14,072   24,620    980   36.37%   63.63%
HD150  41,446   28,510  1,719   59.25%   40.75%

CC1    61,305  224,448  8,270   21.45%   78.55%
CC2   106,277  119,247  6,313   47.12%   52.88%
CC3   165,385  162,387 10,232   50.46%   49.54%
CC4   178,394  163,329  9,947   52.20%   47.80%

These three races did not feature a Libertarian candidate. District Clerk was actually one slot above County Clerk on the ballot, followed by County Treasurer and the At Large HCDE Trustee race. Abel Gomez, the Libertarian County Clerk candidate, got 30K votes. Chris Daniel outpolled Stan Stanart by 22K votes, while Marilyn Burgess took 3K more than Diane Trautman. There were 5K more undervotes in the District Clerk race. For those of you who speculate about the effect of Libertarian candidates in races like this, make of that what you will. I would also note that Abel Gomez is a Latino candidate, and these other two races featured Latino candidates. Orlando Sanchez pulled in 33K more votes than Stanart, with Dylan Osborne lagging Diane Trautman by 6K. In the HCDE race, Marc Cowart only got 2K more votes than Stanart, while Richard Cantu outpaced Trautman by 20K. Again, make of that what you will.

That’s all I’ve got from Harris County, at least for now. I’ve got a post on Fort Bend in the works, and we should soon have the state data available to ponder. I know there will be more to look at, but for now I hope this has been useful to you.

Ridiculous anti-Obamacare ruling remains on hold

It is what it is.

Best mugshot ever

The federal judge in Texas who ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional said today that the law can stand while his judgment is under appeal.

In his order issuing a stay and final partial judgment in the controversial case, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor reiterated that he believes the entire ACA cannot stand without its individual mandate penalty, which Congress zeroed out last year. O’Connor argued that appellate judges will agree with his judgment, but said it should not take effect while the case is being appealed. “[M]any everyday Americans would otherwise face great uncertainty,” he wrote.

The judge’s order means that Obamacare will likely remain the law of the land for at least another year. Depending on how the appeals proceed, it also tees up the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling on the case in 2020, during the presidential campaign.

[…]

In his new filing, O’Connor expanded his reasoning for siding with the conservative states seeking to strike down Obamacare, arguing that they have standing to bring the case. This point has been disputed, because the conservative states have struggled to show how the ACA has harmed them.

O’Connor also stressed that “courts must refrain from resolving policy disputes” created by Congress. His conclusions were widely panned, including by conservative legal scholars who maintain that O’Connor continues to misread the law and is engaging in the same judicial activism that he decries.

“I’ve been very critical of Judge O’Connor’s severability analysis, but the standing analysis in these opinions may be even worse — and that’s saying something,” tweeted Jonathan Adler, a Case Western Reserve University law professor who was a legal architect of another major ACA challenge. “I will be gobsmacked if O’Connor’s opinion survives review in the Fifth Circuit.”

O’Connor also noted that four other counts remain unresolved — signaling that even if the appeals court overturns his ruling, conservative states could find further paths to weaken the ACA. The remaining issues include challenges under the Administrative Procedures Act and the Fifth and 10th amendments.

See here for the background. Basically everyone has panned this ruling as legally unsound – I’m being kind here – and most people believe that the ruling will be reversed. I have less faith in the Fifth Circuit than that, but we’ll see. In the meantime, we can’t get a Congress and a President who are committed to providing health care for all soon enough.

Trying again with online voter registration

Fingers crossed.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas voter registration might be heading to the internet if any of several bills filed for the upcoming legislative session finds its way to the governor’s desk.

Five bills, all filed by Democratic legislators, would require the state to create an online voter registration system if passed into law. Texas is one of just 10 states without such a system.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is a good government issue,” said Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, who filed House Bill 361 to create an electronic voter registration system in Texas. “I’m pledging to continue the fight, because now it’s embarrassing that so many states have it and Texas doesn’t.”

[…]

[Anthony Gutierrez, the executive director of Common Cause Texas] said he thought there was a lot of bipartisan support building behind the idea of an online registration system. Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, agrees.

“Just about everything in our lives has been enveloped with the digital age, and I don’t know why voting would be any different,” said Larson, who shares a seat on the House Elections Committee with Israel. “I think a lot of it is unwarranted fear,” he said of concerns that online registration could welcome fraud. “People are banking online, paying bills online. Everything is online and digital, and I think the state needs to evolve so our registration is the same way.”

Other states with online registration include Georgia, which adopted the practice in 2012, and Alabama, which made the change administratively in 2016. Arizona was the first state to create an online voter registration system, in 2002. Larson said he thinks other conservative southern states’ use of an online system provides a strong case to the Texas Legislature to pass a similar law.

“If we were the first large Republican state to try this, I could understand the snail’s pace to implementing this — but we’re not pioneering, we’re following,” Larson said.

Despite her previous efforts, Israel is confident the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 8, will be different.

“Texas has a sad and tortured history of making it harder to vote, not easier,” Israel said. “One enthusiastic freshman (legislator) was not going to change the world, but that enthusiastic freshman is now a revived and rejuvenated, enthusiastic junior, who has found I can make friends and make a case for this bill.”

I don’t want to oversell this, but one other difference is that now the Harris County Clerk’s office will favor such a bill instead of opposing it. The Harris County Tax Assessor’s office also now favors such a bill, and has done so since the last session. This is one of those “elections have consequences” situations. That may not be enough – if Dan Patrick doesn’t want an online voter registration bill to pass, it will not get a vote in the Senate – but it can only help. And as always, now is a good time to contact your legislators and let them know that you support online voter registration.

Happy New Year’s Day

I’m taking the day off. May 2019 be happy and prosperous for you and your family.

The losers of 2018

Allow me to point you to the Observer’s list of six Texas political players who lost power in 2018. I’d call it five-sixths of a good list, plus one entry I don’t quite understand.

3) Bexar County Democrats

Want to understand the dysfunction and ineptitude of Texas Democrats? Look no further than Bexar County, where the local party is dead broke and mired with infighting. It’s a small miracle that Democrats were able to flip 24 county seats in November. But they still managed to bungle several other potential pickups.

After felon Carlos Uresti resigned from his San Antonio state Senate seat this year, Pete Gallego and the local party apparatus managed to lose the special election runoff, handing over a predominately Hispanic district that Democrats have held for 139 years to Republican Pete Flores. Ultimately, losing that seat allowed Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to keep his GOP supermajority in the upper chamber, as Democrats picked up two Dallas senate districts in November.

On top of that, San Antonio native Gina Ortiz Jones narrowly lost her bid to oust “moderate maverick” Will Hurd in the 23rd Congressional District. In a blue wave year, the perennial swing district that stretches from San Antonio to the western border should have been a gimme. But Ortiz Jones ultimately lost by about 1,250 votes — a margin that a functioning local party in the most important part of the district easily could have made up.

Then there’s Julián Castro, the Alamo City’s hometown hero. Along with his twin brother, the supposed face of the Democratic Party’s future decided to sit out the most important election cycle of his career because he didn’t want to risk sullying his profile with a statewide loss in Texas. Then he watched from the sidelines as some nobody from El Paso became a political phenom and now sits atop the 2020 presidential wishlists.

Castro also wants to run for president and is scrambling to lay down his marker in a crowded Democratic primary field, as if nothing has changed since he became a party darling in the late 2000s. The thing is, political power doesn’t last if you try to bottle it up to use at the most opportune time.

My first thought is, do you mean the Bexar County Democratic Party? The Democratic voters of Bexar County? Some number of elected officials and other insider types who hail from Bexar County? Every other item on the list is either an individual or a concise and easily-defined group. I don’t know who exactly author Justin Miller is throwing rocks at, so I’m not sure how to react to it.

Then there’s also the matter of the examples cited for why this nebulous group deserves to be scorned. Miller starts out strong with the Pete Flores-Pete Gallego special election fiasco. Let us as always look at some numbers:

SD19 runoff, Bexar County – Flores 12,027, Gallego 10,259
SD19 election, Bexar County – Flores 3,301, Gallego 3,016, Gutierrez 4,272
SD19 2016 election, Bexar County – Uresti 89,034, Flores 54,989

Clearly, in two out of three elections the Bexar County part of SD19 was key to the Democrats. Carlos Uresti’s margin of victory in 2016 was about 37K votes, which as you can see came almost entirely from Bexar. The first round of the special election had the two top Dems getting nearly 70% of the vote in Bexar. It all fell apart in the runoff. You can blame Pete Gallego and his campaign for this, you can blame Roland Gutierrez for not endorsing and stumping for Gallego, you can blame the voters themselves. A little clarity, that’s all I ask.

As for the Hurd-Ortiz Jones matchup, the numbers do not bear out the accusation.

CD23 2018 election, Bexar County – Hurd 55,191, Ortiz Jones 50,517, Corvalan 2,260
CD23 2016 election, Bexar County – Hurd 59,406, Gallego 45,396, Corvalan 6,291

Gallego trailed Hurd by 14K votes in Bexar, while Ortiz Jones trailed him by less than 5K. She got five thousand more votes in Bexar than Gallego did. Hurd had a bigger margin in Medina County and did better in the multiple small counties, while Ortiz Jones didn’t do as well in El Paso and Maverick counties. They’re much more to blame, if one must find blame, for her loss than Bexar is.

As for the Castros, I don’t think there was room for both of them to join the 2018 ticket. Joaquin Castro, as I have noted before, is right now in a pretty good position as a four-term Congressperson in a Dem-majority House. I hardly see how one could say he was wrong for holding onto that, with the bet that the House would flip. Julian could have run for Governor, but doing so would have meant not running for President in 2020, and might have ended his career if he’d lost to the surprisingly popular and extremely well-funded Greg Abbott. Would Beto plus Julian have led to better results for Texas Dems than just Beto did? It’s certainly possible, though as always it’s easy to write your own adventure when playing the counterfactual game. I agree with the basic premise that political power is more ephemeral than anyone wants to admit. I think they both made reasonable and defensible decisions for themselves, and it’s not at all clear they’d be better off today if they’d chosen to jump into a 2018 race. Life is uncertain, you know?

Now how much would you pay for that emergency room visit?

Guess higher, and it is a guess because who knows what you’ll wind up getting charged for it.

Fifteen months after Texas enacted a law to bring transparency to the state’s for-profit free-standing emergency rooms, many of the facilities continue to send mixed messages about insurance coverage that could expose unsuspecting patients to surprise medical bills.

A Houston Chronicle review of websites representing the 52 free-standing emergency rooms in the Houston area shows a pattern in which many of the facilities prominently advertise that they “accept” all major private insurance. Some even list the insurers’ names and logos.

But often tucked under pull-down tabs or at the bottom of the page is a notice that the facilities are outside the networks of those insurers, followed by a reassurance that under the Texas insurance code, network status does not matter in emergency treatment, implying patients needn’t worry about coverage.

What the websites fail to disclose is that out-of-network status can result in insurance reimbursements far below the charges, leaving patients on the hook for the remainder of the bill — sometimes thousands of dollars.

“The word ‘accept’ means something very different to them than to the consumer, and they know that when they write their websites,” said Stacey Pogue, senior health policy analyst at the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities. “They do not tell the rest of the story.”

For example, many of the Houston-area facilities advertise that they accept Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, the state’s largest insurer. But the Chronicle’s review found that only five — about 10 percent — are in that insurer’s network.

Those findings are consistent with a statewide report by AARP Texas, to be released Monday at a state Senate committee hearing, that found 77 percent of the state’s 215 free-standing emergency rooms said they “take” or “accept” Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance, but were out-of-network.

Free-standing emergency rooms defend their websites, describing concerns raised by advocacy groups and Texas lawmakers as manufactured outrage.

“I don’t see a problem with saying they ‘accept,’” said Dr. Carrie de Moor, CEO of Code 3 Emergency Partners, a Frisco-based network of free-standing emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and a telemedicine program. She insisted that patients understand that accepting someone’s insurance is different from being in that company’s network.

It may seem like a hair-splitting distinction, but it can carry high costs, health policy experts said.

Obvious point #1: It’s ridiculous that we live in a society where basic medical needs, including emergency care, are not met. It’s utterly scandalous that prior to the Affordable Care Act, there were thousands upon thousands of bankruptcies caused every year by medical issues. Plenty of other countries have figured this out. Our standard of medical care is no better than theirs. It’s just more expensive.

Obvious point #2: For those who believe in the power of the free market, why is it that medical services, especially those tied to emergency and hospital care, are so utterly opaque when it comes to their pricing? Think of all the other goods and services you buy. In nearly all of them, you know up front how much it’s going to cost. That is universally untrue for the vast majority of medical services, from basics like painkillers and bandages to anaesthesia and specialist fees to higher-end products like EKGs and colonoscopies. There’s no such thing as a free market with unknowable prices. You want to move towards something like a free market in health care, fix that.

Weekend link dump for December 30

“But nothing was more telling about this majority than the way it dismissed the issue it rode in on as soon as Trump replaced Obama. So before House Republicans come apologizing again for their past mistakes and begging for another chance, it’s important to emphasize right now: Republican have not, do not, and will not care about deficit reduction except as a rhetorical ploy for stymieing a Democratic government.”

“Don’t go putting the Carlton Dance in your games without respecting Carlton.”

Churches are easy targets for financial crimes because their finances are allowed to be completely opaque.

“Future-proofing” is how you say “climate change” if you’re a Texas Republican.

TV stars we said goodbye to in 2018.

“[Paul] Ryan’s entire thinking about the subject of poverty is shaped by his deep commitment to a fundamentally false premise: the notion that anti-poverty programs have failed.”

The year 536 was a very bad time to be alive.

RIP, Audrey Geisel, film producer and widow of Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel.

“I also get bombarded with direct messages from men who want to sleep with me but those are usually sprinkled with DMs from men who think I’m a degenerate who deserves to be dead. Sometimes I get both from the same guy.”

“The New York Times reviewed hundreds of documents including police reports, bank records and investigator notes from a decade of mass shootings. Many of the killers built their stockpiles of high-powered weapons with the convenience of credit. No one was watching.”

The worst political predictions of 2018. That could easily be a much longer list.

RIP, Richard Overton, nation’s oldest WWII veteran.

“At first blush, this impasse over what divides a wall from a fence might look frivolous. But the semantic controversy is rooted in a substantive one. Simply put, the reason Congress can’t agree on what Trump’s wall is is that Trump can’t (honestly) say what it’s for.”

“In our view, that action clearly constituted a criminal attempt by the president to obstruct justice, one that is even more clear-cut than the president’s prior attempts to thwart the federal investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.”

Here are your Golden Dukes winners for 2018.

How the conversation about guns changed in 2018.

Here come the new judges

They’re going to be fine. Seriously, everyone chill out.

[Frank] Aguilar said some of his Democratic colleagues may not have a lot of judicial experience, but most have had long careers as lawyers and have the experience they need to improve the system.

That sentiment has been a constant among the new Democrat judges. In the days after the election, Dedra Davis, who was elected to civil bench, said the new judges would be using a “wheel” to appoint attorneys at random instead of continuing a system of judges appointing a small roster of attorneys they know.

“A little more fairness, a little more impartiality, and a little more equality is coming, and not everybody’s happy about that,” she said. “Lawyers who made $500,000 a year from their relationship with a judge who always gave them appointments aren’t going to see that anymore.”

In the days after the election, attorneys who had been elevated to the bench were busy winding up their practices while judges who lost were looking at their options.

Josh Hill, a newly elected Democrat criminal court judge, said there is a learning curve in any new job. He expects some “hiccups and speedbumps” around the courts, but said he and the other new judges are fair and will work hard to improve the system.

“I don’t have any reason to think that any of the incoming judges will be incapable of handling the task. I think they’ll do fine,” he said. “Ultimately, you’re going to see a more progressive criminal justice system.”

Hill noted that some of the departing judges came to work late and did not seem to be diligent about getting things done with their dockets. He said practical experience and a strong work ethic are more important than the belief that judges are somehow “better” qualified just because they’ve been on the bench longer.

“Some of them did a great job and some did a terrible job and some were just in-between,” he said. “It just comes down to the individual and what they’re willing to put into it and how hard they’re willing to work.”

[…]

JoAnne Musick , felony division chief at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said new judges are elected every other year and they all seem to learn the job.

“It takes them four to six weeks to get their feet wet and then they’re off and running,” she said.

Many criminal defense attorneys agreed.

“I’ve seen so many transitions and everybody figures it out. It’s going to be fine,” said Cheryl Irvin, a longtime criminal defense lawyer who has practiced since 1980. “Nobody’s going home who should be going to prison. Nothing like that is happening and anybody who says anything like that is just immature.”

Yeah, pretty much. I know it’s de rigeur to dump on the system we have of partisan judicial elections, and for sure there are some departing judges who would have been fine to keep on the bench. But let’s be honest, appointment systems will pick some duds, too. Every company that has ever hired an employee has hired people who just didn’t work out for one reason or another. Maybe an appointment system, if properly built and maintained, would do a better job of picking winners than the system we have now. But all those good judges whose loss everyone is now lamenting were chosen by this same partisan election system we have. It’s not like nobody good got elected.

And hey, guess what: The Legislature is about to be in session. Everyone who believes the system we have for electing judges is terrible is welcomed and encouraged to lobby their legislators to design and implement something better. Come up with a plan, get a legislator to sponsor it, and go from there. There’s never been a better time to turn complaints into action. And if six months from now we make it to sine die without such a bill appearing on anyone’s radar, I’ll know how serious the complainers were about their grievances.

Orlando Sanchez’s bizarre press conference

What a weird thing.

Orlando Sanchez

It was an absolutely wild afternoon for Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez. He planned to have a news conference across the street from the HISD administration building, but things didn’t go as planned.

Protestors showed up and completely disrupted Sanchez’s news conference. When he tried to get it started, the group would chant things like, ‘Go away, TEA’ and ‘You got voted out.’

Things really got heated when he was answering one of our questions. Someone from the group ran up and dumped water on him.

Someone from Sanchez’s team confronted the man. He ended up on the ground and police were called. Both sides claimed they were assaulted.

The news conference was supposed to be for Sanchez to call for the state to take over HISD.

“Taxpayers are fed up and it’s time for the governor and the Texas Education Agency to step up and make sure that children in HISD, which 83 percent of them are minority, get an education,” said Sanchez.

“To have somebody like that step on my toes like that when I have sacrificed so much for these kids, yeah, it’s emotional,” said HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern. “It is because it’s personal. These kids mean a lot to me; not just my five but all 215,000.”

Click over to see pictures and video. Far as I can tell, the only coverage of this fiasco has come from the TV stations; I’ve not seen anything in the Chron as yet.

Let me say up front that whoever poured water on Sanchez is an idiot, and what he did sure sounds like assault to me. It’s also terrible strategy from a public relations perspective. Sanchez’s purpose for calling the press conference was ridiculous on its face, and would have been easy to dismiss on its merits. Anyone who felt the need to attack Sanchez physically is someone who has no faith in their own political position.

Why do I say that Sanchez’s purpose is ridiculous? The law is clear that the authority of the TEA to step in only occurs after the schools fail to meet state standards. We won’t have that data for several months, a fact that everyone knows. It is entirely possible that the four schools in question, which were all granted one-year waivers due to the effects of Hurricane Harvey, could meet standards this year, as the other schools that had originally been under scrutiny and which did not get Harvey waivers did. One could easily argue that by making this needless and premature call for a TEA takeover, Sanchez is expressing a complete lack of faith in the students at the four schools. That’s an insult to them and their parents and teachers. Maybe he had some qualifiers and weasel words in his prepared text, but still, the message is clear: Orlando Sanchez expects you to fail, and so he wants the consequences of your failure to begin now.

One also can’t help but notice that Orlando Sanchez, who just got voted out of a cushy elected position where he was basically invisible for twelve years and has never before expressed any opinions about education or ideas about how to improve it, is jumping up and waving his arms in front of Greg Abbott at a time when he really needs something to do. It’s a clear grab for attention at a time when the news cycle is quiet and he can still call it in his capacity as an elected official. There’s also the rumors that Sanchez is prepping to run for Mayor (again). No such thing as bad publicity, am I right?

Finally, there will surely be litigation over the process of replacing an elected board with an appointed one – for sure, there’s a Voting Rights Act complaint to be made. There were lawsuits over the closure of North Forest ISD and La Marque ISD, and while the state prevailed in each of them, the situation with HISD, which is a much bigger district with many successful schools and is financially solvent, is vastly different. The state may well prevail in any litigation that will occur, but it will take time. There’s also the very real possibility that the Lege could modify the law in question that delays or makes less likely a TEA takeover. The point here is that in every way, this was way premature, and served to do nothing more than call attention to Orlando Sanchez. On that score at least, mission accomplished.

Paxton prosecutors take their shot at a do-over

Good luck.

Best mugshot ever

In a fiery filing that amounts to a legal Hail Mary, the attorneys appointed to prosecute Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton implored the state’s highest criminal court to take the unusual step of considering their case again because last month’s opinion yielded “a patently absurd result.”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in November that a six-figure payment originally approved for the special prosecutors was outside legal limits — a move that boosted Paxton and threatened to derail the case against him, as the prosecutors had indicated they might withdraw if they could not be paid. A month later, the prosecutors have asked the court to reconsider their decision in a crucial case “where the ‘x’ axis of justice and the ‘y’ axis of politics intersect.”

Rehearing, they argued in a filing last week, is critical for ensuring that the high court’s proceedings “appear fair to all who observe them.” [Read the filing here]

[…]

In the Dec. 21 filing, prosecutor Brian Wice wrote that the prosecutors “would never have accepted the formidable task of prosecuting the Texas Attorney General over the last three-plus years had they been able to look into the future and discern that their pay would come within a coat of paint of minimum wage.”

From the opening sentence, the 18-page filing doesn’t mince words.

“If you’re fortunate enough to be Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, you can lawfully create and endow a defense fund to pay for an armada of top-flight legal talent that most defendants can only dream of to defend yourself against three felony offenses,” Wice wrote.

In the motion for rehearing, which includes references to Atticus Finch, Shakespeare, Gilbert & Sullivan and the impending “Sword of Damocles,” the prosecutors implore the state’s highest criminal court to take the unusual step of considering their case again because last month’s opinion yields “a patently absurd result” that would pay the special prosecutors “unconscionable” rates.

Letting the ruling stand, Wice argued, would allow any local government in Texas “to derail what it sees as an unjust prosecution by de-funding it.” And that type of funding dispute can be influenced by major political players, he suggested.

“Make no mistake,” he wrote. “While it was the Commissioners who prevailed in this Court, Paxton first recognized that the best, indeed, the only way to derail his prosecution was to de-fund it by challenging [prosecutors’] fees three years ago.”

See here and here for the background. I mean, the prosecutors are 100% right on the merits, and they lay it out with utter clarity. I maintain that the Legislature can and should fix this by making the state pick up the tab for prosecutions like this, but that won’t help here, even if we could be sure that a bill to address this would pass. We need the Court to do the right thing, which they failed to do the first time around. It’s either that or they show that they don’t care about the law when one of their own is on the sharp end of it.

Another straight-ticket truther

Hello, outgoing Fort Bend DA John Healey!

John Healey

When John Healey began his career as a young prosecutor in Fort Bend County in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan was president, MTV had just gone on the air and the then-rural county had fewer than 175,000 residents.

As Healey prepares to leave the office where he’s spent his entire career, including 26 years as the county’s top prosecutor, the sprawling suburb has roughly 764,000 residents with a growing number of diverse communities.

A Republican, Healey announced his retirement more than a year before the blue wave that swept many Democrats into county offices, including his own. Democrat Brian Middleton, a Houston defense attorney who once worked for Healey, will succeed him at the start of 2019.

[…]

The county is also tilting more toward the Democrats, from Hillary Clinton winning the county in 2016 to ousting longtime County Judge Bob Hebert, a Republican, this past fall. Hebert will be succeeded by Democrat KP George.

“I think you have a well-organized Democratic Party that mobilized a lot of people on fear across the board in the ballot of Donald Trump,” said Healey. “Those that voted straight-ticket voted good Republicans out of office, didn’t care that they were doing it, and maybe didn’t even know that they were doing it.”

I do so love the implication that people who voted straight ticket were too stupid to know who and what they were voting for. There’s nothing more appealing in a public official than insulting voters. The possibility that people may have been deliberately and consciously voting for a change of direction, to rebuke a corrupt and incompetent president, for the candidates who better reflected their values and experiences, or some combination of all three, just doesn’t occur to him. Which strongly suggests to me that he picked the right time to get off the stage.

And just for the record:


Straight R    81,228
Straight D    89,491
Margin         8,263

240th District Court

Bridges      117,587
Fraley       132,199
Margin        14,612

268th District Court

Hawkins      116,476
Williams     133,419
Margin        16,943

458th District Court

Cannata      117,370
Rolnick      132,206
Margin        14,836

District Attorney

Vacek        115,370
Middleton    134,915
Margin        19,545

County Judge

Hebert       118,001
George       132,783
Margin        14,782

District Clerk

Elliott      117,534
Walker       132,630
Margin        15,096

I skipped a few county court races, all of which were in the same range. Point being, even if you accept the ridiculous and ridicule-worthy claim that straight ticket votes are somehow less than other votes, every countywide Democrat in Fort Bend still won their race. Nowhere was that margin greater than in the race for DA, to succeed John Healey. You can believe what you want to believe, John. The voters knew what they wanted.

From the “If at first you don’t succeed” department

Three Dem Congressional candidates from 2018 may try again in 2020.

Todd Litton

Among the typically deep-red districts that came down to single digits were three races around Harris County. Incumbent Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, won by margins of 4.3 and 4.9 percentage points in Texas’ heavily gerrymandered 10th and 22nd Congressional Districts. Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, R-Spring, won by more than 7 points an open race for the 2nd Congressional District, one also drawn to elect Republicans.

In recent elections, the districts had gone to Republicans by no fewer than 19 percentage points, with margins as high as 38 points.

Now, as they parse the results and consider what comes next, Democrats in these races must grapple with important questions. Did they come close because of a boost from Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid and anger among voters prodded to the polls by President Donald Trump, or did they offer a preview of what is to come? Is a 40-something percent result the ceiling, and if not, where might they find more votes?

All three losing Democrats — Todd Litton, Mike Siegel and Sri Preston Kulkarni — said they may take another swing at the districts in 2020, when Trump could appear atop the ballot and galvanize even more voters than in 2018.

[…]

Litton acknowledged he was unlucky to draw an opponent as tough as Crenshaw, saying the former Navy SEAL “was not your standard first-time candidate.” For now, the defeated Democrat plans to see how Crenshaw’s first term goes, and decide later if he wants to run.

“I’d consider it. I don’t know that I’m going to do it,” said Litton, who directed an education nonprofit before seeking office. “We’ll see how Dan does and what he says.”

[…]

Mike Siegel

Texas’ 10th Congressional District covers much of the rural area between Travis and Harris counties, stretching across nine counties from Katy and Cypress all the way through downtown Austin to Lake Travis. It is one of four GOP-held districts dividing up deep-blue Travis County, the only county Siegel won.

Compared to McCaul’s 2016 race, turnout this year grew by more than 3,400 votes in Travis County, where McCaul’s support fell by about eight percentage points. In the remaining eight counties, turnout fell by 8,200 votes from two years ago, and McCaul’s support dropped from 70 percent to 65 percent.

All told, McCaul lost ground in every county from 2016, though his support dipped by fewer than two percentage points in Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lee and Washington counties — all areas where Siegel failed to break even 23 percent.

[…]

One reason for Democratic optimism, Siegel said, is the changing nature of Bastrop and Waller counties, located next to Travis and Harris, respectively. Two years ago, McCaul won Bastrop and Waller by 22 and 32 percentage points, respectively, while this year the margin was 11 and 25 points. Siegel also drew 36 percent of the vote in Harris County, about 7 points ahead of Cadien in 2016.

[…]

Sri Kulkarni

Olson never had won a general election by fewer than 19 points — his margin in 2016 — but several trends gave Kulkarni reason to contest the district. Notably, it shifted 17.5 points in favor of Democrats from the 2012 to 2016 presidential election, the fourth most dramatic change in the country.

Kulkarni’s preliminary data also found that both parties had ignored major swaths of the district. In particular, Asian residents make up about 20 percent of the district’s population, far more than any other Texas congressional district, but Kulkarni found that three-quarters of Asian voters had not been contacted by any political party.

Kulkarni’s efforts hinged on turning out the scores of college-educated immigrants who moved to the district during the last several years. He ultimately lost by 4.9 percentage points, a result he attributes partly to not reaching enough Hispanic voters. He did not rule out giving it another shot in 2020.

“If I’m the best candidate, I’ll run again,” Kulkarni said. “I don’t want to throw away all the hard work that we did in organizing here, because going from 19 points two years ago or 34 points four years ago, to 4.9 — there’s obviously a change going on in terms of who’s participating.”

A few general thoughts…

1. Obviously, it’s very early to say who may or may not be running in 2020. Even if all three of these guys say they’re in, they could face primary opponents, and who knows what might happen in a Presidential-year primary, where I think we might see 2008-level turnout. That said, there are always advantages to getting in early – among other things, you can start fundraising right away – and whether we like it or not, the 2020 campaign is already underway. Take all the time you need to decide, but don’t take any longer than that.

2. Of the three, Litton or anyone else in CD02 will likely have the toughest race. Dan Crenshaw has star potential, and he doesn’t yet have any Trump stink on him. He also had the biggest margin of victory in 2018. On the other hand, he will have to start making tough choices about Trump and the Trump agenda, and with CD07 in Democratic hands, CD02 is (along with County Commissioner Precinct 3) the top target for Team Blue in 2020. In addition, no one has to be convinced now that CD02 is worth targeting. It will be on the national radar from the beginning, which will help.

3. That “key for Democratic optimism” paragraph about CD10 is the key for 2020. The Harris County part of the district is fast-growing, and offers a lot of opportunity to find, register, and turn out new Dem voters that year. Looking at the 2016 and 2018 election returns, there were 21K more voters this year in the Harris part of CD10 than there were two years ago. Turnout was 69% in there in 2016, and 59% in 2018, though that meant 6K more voters thanks to the larger voter pool. I feel like if you can get the Dem number in Harris County above 40%, you can win this district. You’ll still need a strong showing in Travis, and there’s room for growth as noted in Bastrop and Waller, but if you get to 40% in Harris I feel like this one is in reach.

4. As noted before, Pete Olson may or may not make it to the ballot in 2020. Generally speaking, having an open seat makes it more winnable for the opposing party. That may be less true in the Trump era, but an open seat will definitely push this up a notch on the national radar. If Kulkarni runs again, my advice is “keep doing what you’re doing”. If it’s someone else, my advice is “do what Sri Kulkarni did, and do more of it”.

Normally, this is the time when I say things like “I want to get through 2019 before I start thinking about 2020”. This is the world we live in now. 2019 is important, but given that everyone who wants to run in 2020 will have to file for office before 2019 is over, we really do have to be thinking about it now.

Better sidewalks needs to be everyone’s job

It’s the only way we’re going to make progress.

Houstonians annoyed by cracked, missing or buckled sidewalks along their streets may be surprised to learn that city rules make residents responsible for fixing them.

At the urging of council members three years ago, Houston Public Works tried something new, launching a program that let homeowners get quotes for sidewalk repairs from city-approved contractors, then pay for the fix.

Though 155 residents signed up and 105 got cost estimates, only two agreed to pay the bill — likely because the average quote was $5,000.

Public Works officials acknowledge the city’s involvement added overhead that resulted in estimates double or triple what a resident otherwise would pay. The program has been scrapped.

Still, city officials say adding more sidewalks is a worthy goal. The issue, Public Works Deputy Director Jeff Weatherford said, is that Houston has no sidewalk repair budget and sets aside just $2.6 million a year to add new sidewalks through a few targeted programs. Compare that with the $83 million needed to fulfill 580 pending requests for new sidewalks.

“There’s a funding shortfall,” Weatherford said. “We’d love to expand it, we’re having conversations about different ways to expand it, we’re looking at priorities for grants, other alternative funding sources. But until we’ve worked out a way to get that, it’s going to be a balancing act.”

Residents can apply to have up to four blocks of sidewalks added near schools and along major streets, but typically must wait three to five years. Residents with disabilities also can apply to have up to 1,500 feet of sidewalks built around their homes. These Pedestrian Accessibility Reviews, which have produced about 75 finished sidewalk projects in the last five years, get top priority.

[…]

Advocates with the 6-year-old Houston Complete Streets Coalition want to work toward a sidewalk plan for the city, assessing the presence and condition of existing sidewalks, compiling the resulting information in a database and using it, alongside identified priorities, to guide decisions on where to install and repair sidewalks.

Michael Huffmaster, who leads the group of civic clubs known as the Super Neighborhood Alliance and represents that group on the coalition, said one proposal is to incorporate public facilities like community centers, libraries and parks into the program that adds sidewalks around schools.

“It’s up to City Council to fund sidewalks at a level that makes a meaningful contribution to the needs of the city,” Huffmaster said. “It’s sad that we put the burden of the sidewalk on the adjacent property owner because it’s an improvement that’s within the public right of way. Mobility in the city, pedestrian safety, should be priorities.”

Weatherford said he does not oppose adding facilities like libraries to the school sidewalk program or the idea of a sidewalk plan, but he said the funding question must be solved first, lest the backlog of unfunded sidewalk requests swell and the new plan sit unused on a shelf.

I have two thoughts about this. One is that the city should revisit that Public Works program, but in a style similar to one that already exists for financing the installation of solar panels: Have the city pay for the work up front (floating a bond if need be for the capital costs), then letting homeowners who get their sidewalks fixed pay that back via a charge added to their monthly water bill. The overall amount the city would have to borrow isn’t that much, and individual homeowners ought to be able to pay it off in three years or so; payment options can be given for that. I don’t see a down side to this.

I would also expand upon the Super Neighborhood Alliance idea. How can we get other government entities involved? As I have said several times before, the city of Houston is also (almost entirely) within Harris County. Metro has done some work at and around bus stops since the 2012 referendum giving them a larger share of the sales tax revenue. I’d like to see that continued and expanded with the 2019 referendum. HISD and the other school districts should kick in for better sidewalks around their schools, as a matter of student safety. H-GAC should seek out state and federal grant money for sidewalks. This still needs to be a primary responsibility of the city, but there’s no reason it has to be the city’s sole responsibility. If we want to solve the problem, we need to make it everyone’s priority.

The Harris County GOP has not hit bottom yet

I have four thing to say about this.

Never forget

Drubbed. Shellacked. Whooped. Walloped. Routed.

However you want to describe November’s midterm election, it was disastrous for Harris County Republicans. They were swept from the remaining countywide posts they held — the other shoe to drop after Democrats booted the Republican sheriff and district attorney two years ago — and lost all 55 judicial seats on the ballot. For the first time in decades, Democrats will hold a majority of Commissioners Court.

The path forward for the local GOP is unclear. The party’s statewide slate went undefeated yet rebuked by Harris County voters, raising questions about whether its pitch to rural voters alienated urban ones. In the state’s most populous county, and his home base, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz got just 41 percent of the vote.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson, however, is optimistic. He said several local Republicans would have won, chief among them County Judge Ed Emmett, if straight-ticket voting had been eliminated before the election. Republicans in the Texas Legislature decided to retire the straight-ticket option after 2018, which traditionally benefited their party, but proved disastrous for the GOP in urban counties this cycle.

“Pendulums will swing back,” Simpson said. “I’m confident in the near future, we’ll be back.”

Scholars and Emmett, the county executive for 11 years before his upset loss, offered a less rosy assessment — that of a party catering to a largely white, graying base that is failing to adapt to changing demographics and awaiting the return of a “normal” electorate that has ceased to exist. November 2018 should be a wake-up call, they say, but they wonder if the local Republican Party is listening.

“If you look at ’18 as a turning point for Harris County, there’s nothing data-wise that would give you any indication this was an aberration and not a structural change,” said Jay Aiyer, who teaches political science at Texas Southern University. “If anything, you could see it actually swinging harder to the Democrats in ’22.”

Mark Jones, who studies Texas politics at Rice University, offered a more tepid view. He said the broad unpopularity of President Donald Trump drove some voters to the polls this fall who may not have participated otherwise.

“If you take Trump out of the equation and put in a more liberal Democrat … it’s not clear to me that Democrats have the same level of advantage,” Jones said. “The county is trending from red, to pink, to purple. But I would not say Harris County is blue.”

[…]

Republicans have not won a countywide post in a presidential election year since 2012. University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the local GOP would be wise to lower its expectations for 2020, which likely will feature an unpopular president at the top of the ticket.

“The Republicans need to show they’ve still got a pulse after the disaster that befell them in ’18,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s about the best they can hope for in a presidential year.”

Simpson, who has led county Republicans since 2014, said the party will focus on recruiting fresh candidates who can appeal to a wide swath of voters, rather than the sliver of partisans who vote in primaries. He lauded the success of Dan Crenshaw in the 2nd Congressional District, a young, charismatic combat veteran who beat better-funded candidates in the primary.

Crenshaw’s win, Simpson said, showed candidates “can be conservative and still be cool.”

The Texas 2nd, however, is a district drawn for Republicans that has a far greater proportion of white residents than Harris County as a whole.

1. I’ve said all there is for me to say about straight ticket voting. The embedded image is a reminder that Republicans used to be big fans of straight ticket voting. Turns out that straight ticket voting works really well for the party that has more voters to begin with. There’s an awful lot of Republicans in this state who never contemplated the possibility that they would not be the majority party.

2. As noted in the title of this post, Republicans in Harris County have not hit rock bottom quite yet. One thing I discovered in doing the precinct data analyses is that Beto O’Rourke carried all eight Constable/Justice of the Peace precincts. I didn’t write about that in part because I didn’t quite believe it, but there it is. The three Republican Constables and three of the six Republican JPs are on the ballot in 2020. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that after the 2020 election, the only Republicans holding county office will be the three JPs in Place 2 (the of-year cycle), County Commissioner Jack Cagle, and the three not-at-large HCDE Trustees. Those last three JPs could then be wiped out in 2022, along with the HCDE Trustee for Precinct 2, with the Trustee for Precinct 3 (who won this year by less than a percentage point) on track for elimination in 2024. Yes, lots of things can change, and I’m assuming that Commissioner Steve Radack will either be defeated in 2020 or will step down and the Republicans will fail to hold his seat. My point is, the Republicans not only have very little left, what they have is precarious and fragile, and there are no obvious opportunities to make gains in county government.

(You may now be saying “But Adrian Garcia will have to run for re-election in 2022, and he won a close race this year under favorable circumstances, so he could lose then.” Yes, but do you know what happens between now and the 2022 elections? The County Commissioner precincts undergo redistricting. Jack Morman benefited from that process after his win in 2010; what I wrote here was premature but in the end turned out to be accurate. I guarantee you, Precinct 2 will be friendlier to Commissioner Garcia’s re-election prospects, and if a Dem wins in Precinct 3 in 2020, it will be friendlier to that Commissioner’s prospects in 2024 as well.)

Legislatively, Dems have more targets (HDs 138, 134, and 126, with longer shots in 129 and 133 and even 150) than they have seats to defend. Lizzie Fletcher will have to defend CD07, but Dan Crenshaw will have to defend CD02, and he didn’t win his seat by much more than Fletcher won hers by (7 points for Crenshaw, 5 points for Fletcher). CD10 and CD22, which cover more than Harris County, are already on the national radar for 2020 as well. We’re not watching the battleground any more, we’re in the thick of it.

3. The Republicans’ problems in Harris County run deeper than Donald Trump. Every statewide elected official, most especially Dan Patrick (here shilling for the ludicrous “wall”) and Ken Paxton, who is spending all of his energy outside his own criminal defense on destroying health care, is a surrogate for Trump. People were just as fired up to vote against Patrick, Paxton, and Sid Miller as they were to vote against Ted Cruz, and the numbers bear that out. They’ll get another chance to do that in 2022, so even in a (please, God, please) post-Trump landscape, there will still be reminders of Trump and reasons to keep doing the work that we started in 2018.

4. All that said, we know two things for sure: One is that there are more Democrats than Republicans in Harris County, which is a combination of demographic trends, Donald Trump laying waste to American values, and sustained voter registration efforts. Two, Republicans have been unable to compete in a high-turnout election in Harris County since 2008. (2010 was a relatively high turnout year, for an off year, but it was still only 41.7%, quite a bit less than this year’s 52.8%.) It is a reasonable question to ask if Dems can be dominant in a low-turnout scenario. 2014 was a terrible year for turnout, and Republicans swept the county, but with the topline Rs mostly winning by four to six points. There’s definitely a scenario under which Rs could do well in 2022 and in which the demographic and political patterns we have seen do not fundamentally change. It’s hard to see how they compete going forward without a serious effort to rebrand, and every day that Donald Trump and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and Sid Miller are in office, that rebranding becomes harder to do. Lots of things can change. The Republican Party needs to be one of them.

More Congressional retirement speculation

From Roll Call:

Rep. Kenny Marchant

Life in the minority will be a new experience for most House Republicans next year. And many of them may not remember what happened the last time the GOP lost the House.

After the 2006 Democratic wave, about two dozen Republicans opted to retire the following cycle instead of languishing in the minority. And some in the party are worried about a repeat.

“I don’t know if people have gotten over the shell shock yet, but there ought to be,” said Rep. Tom Cole when asked if there was concern about potential retirements.

The Oklahoma Republican knows firsthand the costs of losing the majority. He chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2008 campaign cycle and was tasked with convincing Republicans in tough districts not to retire. Twenty-three members ended up choosing to leave.

Convincing someone not to retire is a difficult, but important, sell — especially after a huge wave of GOP retirements in the 2018 cycle opened the door to Democratic victories last month.

“We saw how devastating that was for us this year,” Cole said. “Another round of that would be really bad.”

[…]

Close attention is likely to fall on lawmakers who survived close races last month, particularly in suburban areas where President Donald Trump is unpopular. And a few names are already starting to circulate.

A handful of Texas Republicans survived closer-than-expected contests. Rep. Pete Olson, who won re-election by 5 points in a district outside Houston, had been rumored to be eyeing the exit. But his chief of staff Melissa Kelly denied it. Rep. Kenny Marchant, who won his Dallas-area seat by just 3 points, said he “absolutely” is also running again, calling his recent victory margin an “anomaly.”

A handful of GOP ranking members who are facing their last term at the top of their committees could also be looking to leave. Republicans can only serve a combined six years as chairman or ranking member of a committee, and that influenced several retirements last cycle.

Rep. Olson has been the subject of retirement rumors for some time now. I don’t think anyone will be surprised if he bows out. Marchant is a new name for this, and it’s one that I think may have been more about speculation than actual chatter. That said, people have noticed how close CD24 was, and it’s a virtual certainty that Marchant will be in the spotlight this cycle. Beto carried CD24, a fact that you should expect to hear many more times over the next two years. (Beto also carried CD10, by a smaller margin.)

Along those lines, here are the way-too-early Cook Political Report rankings for the 2020 House elections. CDs 07 and 32, the two won by Dem challengers this year, are Lean Democratic. CDs 23 and 24 – there’s that district again – are Republican Toss-Ups. CDs 10, 21, 22, and 31 are Lean Republican, while CD06 is Likely Republican. I for one think CDs 02, 03, and 25 deserve mention as well. No matter how you look at it, Texas is going to get a lot of attention in 2020.

Watch your packages

They’re disappearing off porches at an increasing rate.

Package thefts have become a growing problem across the country, Texas and Houston as more people shop online. Nearly 26 million Americans have had a holiday package stolen, according to a study by InsuranceQuotes, an Austin-based online insurance marketplace.

In Houston, police say, package thefts have increased by 80 percent since 2015, when the Houston Police started tracking the crime. SafeWise, a home security company research firm, estimates that nearly 20 out of every 1,000 Houston residents have had packages stolen and ranks the city No. 7 in the nation for package theft.

Houston was the largest city on SafeWise’s national list, which was dominated by Texas cities including No. 1 Austin and No. 8 Dallas.

The problem, of course, is exacerbated during the holidays, the busiest shopping season of the year. Americans spent a record $110.6 billion online between Nov. 1 and Dec. 19, an increase of 17.8 percent from last year, according to Adobe Analytics, a research firm tracking online shopping

“When the number of packages goes up, thefts go up,” Houston Police spokesman John Cannon said.

Package theft is difficult to solve — even with the proliferation of security cameras and video doorbells — because it’s a crime of opportunity, said Sgt. Eugenio Gonzalez with Houston Police’s burglary and theft division While there are some groups of so-called porch pirates roaming around snatching packages, many are first-time criminals.

“It’s easy pickings,” said Gonzalez.

[…]

Some consumers are taking matters into their own hands by setting out decoy packages. Recently, a former NASA engineer rigged a package that sprayed glitter and a fart-smell cologne on porch pirates when they opened it — and filmed their reactions. The resulting video went viral on YouTube, with more than 42 million views.

Houston police don’t recommend people set out bait packages to try to catch package thieves. Instead, they encourage residents to call and report thefts and have officers investigate.

Residents should schedule deliveries when someone is home, or have it delivered to people’s workplace or a neighbor’s house, police said. The department also encourages installing video cameras, buying shipping insurance and using package lockers.

“I never tell anyone to take the law into their own hands,” Gonzalez said. “I myself will be getting a Ring video doorbell for my family.”

I wouldn’t recommend the decoy package thing either, but I thank the guy who did do it for the lolz. There are various ways to mitigate against the problem, from secure pickup locations to letting delivery people enter your home to the old-fashioned “drop it off with a neighbor” and “be at home when they deliver” strategies. Or, you know, maybe buy more stuff in stores. I’m just saying.

Recruiting more women for 2020

We made a lot of progress towards better gender balance in our various legislative bodies this year. If we want to make more progress in 2020, it starts with finding and recruiting more female candidates.

Kim Olson

Even on a rainy Thursday night in the busy weeks before Christmas, nearly two dozen women crowded into a country club meeting room here, fired up about the possibility of running for office.

Democratic recruiters report that about 100 women attended similar “Candidate 101” classes across Texas last week. The party is searching far and wide for potential candidates as Democratic leaders look to capitalize on momentum from the November midterm election, when women claimed a greater share of political power in Congress than ever before.

The 102 women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November represent 23 percent of House members. Women will hold 38 of the 181 available seats when the Texas Legislature convenes in January — about 20 percent.

“I think there’s more work to be done for increasing diversity so everybody has a seat at the table,” said Pooja Sethi, who is Indian and who worked as a fundraiser for several Austin-area Democratic candidates. She wants to see more South Asians in the Texas Legislature. “The future is bright.”

Hmm. I count 41 women currently in the Lege, with Reps. Carol Alvarado and Joe Pickett needing to be succeeded. I also counted 37 from the previous session. I may have miscounted – feel free to double check me – but I’m not sure where that 38 comes from. Be that as it may, eight of the 12 Democratic challengers in the House that won were women.

Kim Olson, a Democrat and retired Air Force Colonel, said she awoke after Trump’s election “mad as hell” and determined to run for office — she just didn’t know which one.

After learning Democrats were having a tough time finding candidates to run for Texas agriculture commissioner, the beekeeper and farmer decided that was the office she wanted, she told the women gathered at the “Candidate 101” course in Cedar Park.

With no name recognition but a strong personality, she earned 3.8 million votes — more than any other woman who has run statewide in Texas, including former Gov. Ann Richards and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and failed gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. Olson, who raised close to $450,000 — largely in donations of less than $200 — fell 5 percentage points short of defeating Republican Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Olson said she wants to use the political capital she has built to find a female candidate to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, whose seat is up for re-election 2020.

Noting that 2020 will mark the 100-year anniversary of women’s winning the right to vote, she said, “Some woman is going to run. If Beto (O’Rourke) doesn’t do it, let’s find the right woman.”

Olson hinted she would be willing to run herself if no suitable candidate emerges, but stressed she wants to help “take these kids from JV to varsity.”

“I’m going to be unapologetic — it’s got to be all about women,” she said. “This what the long game looks like.”

I’m down with Kim Olson running for Senate if Beto opts out. We’re only about halfway to where we should be, so this very much is about the long game.

It’s tree-recycling time

Here’s what you need to know.

You have nearly three weeks to do this. Don’t miss out.

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone the happiest of holidays as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Mel Torme once again wishes you a Merry Christmas

You know the story by now, my favorite Christmas story ever. If you know it, treat yourself and read it again. If you don’t know it, if you’re new here and you have no idea what I’m talking about, go click the link and find out. You won’t regret it. Merry Christmas, everyone.

And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle

As always, my favorite Christmas Eve video:

May you and yours get all your Christmas wishes fulfilled.

Santa’s employment agency

Good work if you can get it.

If you have had a picture taken with Santa Claus in San Antonio this holiday season, there’s a good chance he was booked through a local business run by a head elf.

That head elf is Renee Davis, CEO of San Antonio-based Santa Express Central, who manages more than 50 professional Santa Clauses across the state, a business Davis said keeps her busy year-round.

“In order to get a really professional Santa, retailers get on it a good 18 months to a year in advance, because it’s that competitive to get a good Santa,” she said.

All of the Santas with Santa Express Central have real beards, Davis said. She puts them through a background check, insures them, outfits them with Santa uniforms, and enrolls them into her own Santa school. There they practice their ho-ho-ho’s and learn how to style themselves properly, speak around children, preserve the magic of Santa Claus, and strike the best poses for the camera. Her training prepares them to be the best Santas they can be, she said.

“My Santas book out very fast, and it’s because of the difference we make,” she said. “They’re taking that extra moment and time, letting the child know, ‘I care, I see you, and I hear you.'”

Between November and December, Davis estimates she books more than 600 events with her Santa Clauses. She has 57 Santas across Texas, though the majority live in the San Antonio and Hill Country area.

Hey, Santa has better things to do than figure out where his next gig is. It’s good that he has someone to do this sort of thing for him. Visit the charmingly retro Santa Express Central webpage to learn more.

Weekend link dump for December 23

“The focus on the technology behind fake media obscures more pressing questions about the psychology and sociology of viral false narratives.”

“I hate the fact that I believe this, but I do, in fact, believe pretty strongly that conservatives on the Supreme Court will never strike down even the most egregious gerrymanders unless Democrats prove that they can play the game too. So let’s play.”

“The rise of politicians like El-Sayed, Omar, and Tlaib also undermines a core argument advanced by dictators in the Middle East: that their people are not ready for democracy.”

“One place we can look to gauge the extent of the capitalist class’s triumph in the state is the tax code. While government programs in the US are commonly viewed as the province of the poor, the US tax code is actually riddled with giveaways to the rich. In 2014, the average household in the top 0.1 percent — people with more than $100 million in assets — received more in tax breaks than the average household in the bottom 50 percent.”

You want to understand the Les Moonves story and the unbelievably awful working environment at CBS, read this.

“A John Waters Christmas is exactly what it says on the label. You would not want this to be the only Christmas album that you own, but it will certainly be very much more what it is than any of the others.”

The biggest tech lies of 2018.

Not everyone missed the story of rising rightwing violence in America.

Santa’s attorney tells all.

Among other things, the Mueller probe is turning a profit for the federal government.

Celebrating local journalism in all fifty states.

“Race, not abortion, was the founding issue of the religious right”.

RIP, Colin Kroll, co-founder of HQ Trivia and Vine.

RIP, Penny Marshall, actor and director known for many things, from Laverne and Shirley to A League Of Their Own and much more.

By the way, here’s the story of the iconic script “L” on all of Laverne’s outfits.

“Pause on that for a moment. An American presidential campaign indicated to the Kremlin it would happily conspire with the Russians on secret dirty tricks.”

“There’s really nothing more you need for the quid pro quo. Putin was dangling hundreds of millions of dollars in front of Trump, in addition to operating on numerous fronts to make Trump President.”

“Here’s the thing. If the Justice Department takes the position that Michael Cohen should go to jail, that these allegations are so serious that he should go to jail for these campaign fraud allegations, what is the argument against jail for the individual who coordinated and directed that scheme?”

“Think of all the Trumps this foundation helped. Donald, Donald Jr., a business associate of Trump’s, a Trump-affiliated fountain, a tower, Pam Bondi. Think of all the millions who benefited from these actions — millions, that is, of dollars that Donald Trump did not have to spend and were able to stay happily united with their friends in his investment vehicles, or wherever it is that we think they are, not having seen his tax returns.”

It was a good year for horror on television.

From young guns to has beens in less than a decade.

“Here’s a complete rundown of the various known investigations targeting Trump’s world from local, state, and federal prosecutors”.