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Texas to appeal voter ID ruling to SCOTUS

Sure, whatever.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas plans to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a lower court decision that found the state’s voter ID law discriminates against minorities.

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office said Tuesday it will appeal the ruling to the high court “to protect the integrity of voting in the State of Texas.”

[…]

Texas had yet to file its appeal with the Supreme Court as of early Tuesday afternoon.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer representing U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and the League of United Latin American Citizens in the case, said the state’s appeal will lead to more taxpayer money being wasted on litigation. The state has spent around $3.5 million on legal fees related to its voter ID law.

“Every court that has reviewed this case so far has ruled against Texas,” said Dunn.

Just a reminder, the Fifth Circuit ruling was handed down on July 20, nearly four weeks ago. Since then, the state and the plaintiffs have agreed to a remediation plan to conform to the ruling, and yesterday the state released its detailed plan for voter education and elected official training on the new ruling. The timing of this is, shall we say, odd. Rick Hasen speculates:

Seemed clear from the filings there would be no emergency SCOTUS action. And if there were, I’m sure the SCOTUS emergency review would be denied because (1) Texas waited too long given the imminent election; (2) it has started an education program for voters and training of election officials on how the new rules work; and (3) there are not 5 votes on the 4-4 Supreme Court for such relief.

I also expect cert. will be denied eventually. Liberals will like the rulings. And conservatives won’t find a fifth vote to overturn this finding on the merits.

This is so even though there is something of a Circuit split on how to apply Section 2 of the VRA to new vote denial claims.

I guess this is a matter of playing the long game, hoping to get a reversal at some point in the future? Also in the “curious timing” department is the fact that North Carolina filed an “emergency” appeal to SCOTUS over its voter ID law, which they took 17 days to get to. Not that much of an emergency, it would seem, but what do I know? Anything is possible, but the most likely outcome at this point is that nothing will change for either state, at least for this election. After that, we’ll see who gets inaugurated next January 21 and (one hopes) finally gets a ninth Justice confirmed. The DMN, the Lone Star Project, Think Progress, and SCOTUSBlog have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

PPP: Trump 44, Clinton 38

We knew this poll was coming, and it confirms what we have been seeing elsewhere.

PPP’s new Texas poll finds a relatively tight race, at least on the curve of recent Presidential election results in the state. Donald Trump leads with 44% to 38% for Hillary Clinton, 6% for Gary Johnson, 2% for Jill Stein, and less than half a percent (0) for Evan McMullin. In a head to head contest Trump leads Clinton 50-44 in the state, which Mitt Romney won by 16 points in 2012.

A Democratic victory in Texas this year remains a stretch but within the numbers there are signs of Democrats being positioned to become seriously competitive there in the years ahead. Trump’s lead is based entirely on his holding a 63-33 advantage among seniors. With voters under 65, Clinton leads him 49-45. And when you look just specifically at voters under 45, Clinton leads Trump 60-35. Older voters are overwhelmingly responsible for the Republican advantage in Texas, and generational change is likely to help Democrats become more competitive.

A big piece of that generational change is the increasing racial diversity of the electorate in Texas. Trump has a 69/25 lead with white voters but the reason the state’s so competitive overall is that among non-white voters Clinton has a 73-21 lead, including a 68-27 edge with the state’s booming Hispanic population.

Clinton’s unpopular in Texas, as you would expect, with a 36/59 favorability rating. But Trump’s not a whole lot better off with only 40% of voters seeing him favorably to 53% with a negative opinion. The tax return issue continues to plague Trump with 64% of voters thinking he needs to release his returns to only 25% who don’t think it’s necessary for him to. Even Trump’s supporters, by a 43/41 spread, think he should release them. Another issue that has the potential to cause Trump problems down the road is if he refuses to participate in the debates as scheduled. 77% of voters think he needs to do that to only 14% who don’t think he needs to and among his own supporters there’s an even stronger sentiment- 82/12- that Trump needs to participate. If Trump is stubborn about that it could cause the bottom to fall out on his support even further.

The full polling memo is here. A few thoughts:

– If President Obama were running against Trump, he would be trailing by only two points, 48-46. Let that sink in for a moment. Obama’s approval/disapproval numbers are 42/54, which is a tiny bit better than Trump’s favorable/unfavorable numbers of 40/53.

– This is Clinton’s high-water mark in Texas so far, which puts her in Obama’s polling range from 2012, while Trump continues to lag way behind Romney’s poll numbers. All this is of course consistent with the race being closer now than it was four years ago, but it’s not yet suggestive of Clinton doing better than Obama did. PPP did poll Trump/Clinton straight up, and the result there was 50/44, which is more in line with her exceeding the 2012 level, but it’s not a two-candidate race, so all that shows is that she has the potential to grow.

– Trump’s numbers among white voters are closer to what Romney got, but still a few points behind it. The 69-25 figure cited about is from the Trump/Clinton two-person choice; with all four candidates listed he leads by a more modest 64-21 among whites. He does have the potential to grow as well, as Gary Johnson gets 5% and 8% are undecided. It’s also well within reason that this just portends a decrease in Republican turnout. It’s still too early to say.

– This is the first poll of Texas I’ve seen that includes all four candidates. Johnson’s 6% and Stein’s 2% would significantly exceed their numbers from 2012 if they hold up, but as we know from national polling data, third party numbers tend to be exaggerated in polls compared to what ultimately happens at the ballot box. This is a weird year, of course, so one wants to tread carefully in making any broad claims. Unfortunately, there’s no basis for comparison in the 2012 numbers, as none of the polls from September onward included Johnson or Stein, who represented the L and G parties that year as well. The one data point we have is in the UT/Trib poll from October 12, 2012, in the Senate race (see page 3), where Lib candidate John Jay Myers polled at 3% and Green David Collins was at 2%. In actual voting, Myers wound up with 2.06% and Collins with 0.86%, higher than their Presidential counterparts but lower than their poll totals. Make of that what you will.

– The age split is encouraging from a Democratic perspective, but old people vote, and a 20-year timeline as suggested in the polling memo is forever. The Democrats’ base problem remains the same – base turnout hasn’t grown, at least in non-Presidential years, since 2002. If Democratic turnout increases this year, then perhaps there is some hope to get an increase in 2018. Of course, one could have made the same claim after 2008, and we know how that went. Solving the base turnout issue is the Hilbert problem for Texas Dems.

PDiddie has more.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Strange HISD referendum to be on the ballot

This will be weird.

BagOfMoney

Because of the state’s byzantine financing system, HISD will have to either send almost $162 million in local taxpayers’ money to the state or stand by to see some of the district’s most valuable properties assigned to other school districts by the Texas Education Agency. (Local businesses aren’t too wild about the idea either; HISD has some of the lowest tax rates around.)

In addition, as trustee Mike Lunceford pointed out, losing those properties would just pile on the debt for HISD taxpayers. “We have bonds we have sold based on some of those assets, and [without them] we’re going to have to raise taxes again,” he said.

The board could decide to do nothing and hope it could lobby the upcoming session of the Legislature to change its mind — although attempts to change the school financing system in this state have failed for years — but as Lunceford put it: “If we vote it down, we’re betting that the Legislature will do something right.”

The other sticking point was that if trustees don’t adopt one of the options offered by state law, they can’t set a tax rate. The only way to get the measure before voters was for trustees to vote to send the money to the state, which gives taxpayers a chance to say yes or no to that in the general election on November 8.

So after much gnashing of teeth that the state could do this to a district that has so many kids on free- or reduced-price lunches, school board members passed the measure on a 6-0 vote (by that time three trustees had left) calling for voters to decide the issue. The measure, with admittedly confusing language (set by the state), asks voters to give the district permission to purchase $162 million in tax credits from the state. As trustee Greg Meyers pointed out, the word “credits” sounds great and voters may completely misinterpret what they’re being asked to do.

See here, here, and here for some background. This Chron story from last week adds some details.

If voters say “no” to sending money to the state, the Texas education commissioner then has the power to detach the Houston Independent School District’s highest-value properties and to assign them to property-poor districts. That means the owners of these properties – likely downtown high-rises – would be paying taxes to another school district.

The detachment, however, would not be immediate. The commissioner’s actions would not take effect until July 3, 2017, according to a timeline spelled out in a Texas Education Agency manual.

The Houston school board’s attorney, David Thompson, said during a board meeting Monday that the state Legislature reconvenes in January, before the education commissioner would act. That timeline would give lawmakers the opportunity to adjust the school-finance system if they wanted to do so, Thompson said.

[…]

The district would have to start paying the state in February, if voters approve the recapture measure.

Houston-area districts that paid recapture last year include Galveston, Spring Branch, Deer Park and Sheldon. Galveston ISD paid the most among those, totaling $12.3 million.

HISD officials argue that while the district has significant property wealth, about three-quarters of the students in the public school system come from low-income families.

HISD board member Greg Meyers called a funding system that punishes the state’s largest district “criminal.”

“You can count on it that I will speak my mind,” Meyers said, adding later that he is conflicted about how people should vote. He said he has “serious angst” about having to send money to the state but is concerned that the district could lose property for taxing purposes to repay bonds if the commissioner is forced to act.

Just remember, this is the Legislature’s fault, with a big assist from our gutless Supreme Court. The thought of doing an interview about this ballot item is already giving me a nosebleed. I can’t wait to see what organizations form to support and/or oppose this.

Posted in: School days.

Microbrewery lawsuit heard in court

I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

beer

Just how much is it worth for that Velvet Hammer or other local craft brew to make it to your favorite bar or convenience store?

That’s one of several key questions that came before a state district court Monday, as a group of craft brewers — including Peticolas Brewing of Dallas and Revolver Brewing of Granbury — challenged a contentious component of the state’s arcane alcohol regulations.

Namely, the craft brewers want to overturn a 2013 law that says they cannot accept financial compensation for their distribution rights.

In Texas and in many other states, the alcohol industry operates under a three-tier system: producers, distributors and retailers. That arrangement, which dates to the end of Prohibition, seeks to eliminate potential problems by keeping each operation independent from the others.

[…]

In 2013, the Legislature passed several new alcohol laws, many involving the burgeoning craft beer scene. Though multiple bills helped the upstarts, particularly brew pubs, there’s little doubt that the distribution rights piece boosted that middle tier of the system.

Consider that at least one brewery — Live Oak Brewing in Austin — sold its distribution rights for the Houston area for $250,000 before the law went into effect. Now, that would be impossible.

Some craft brewers, if they meet certain criteria, can use what’s called self-distribution as a work-around. But the restrictions that come along with that practice can make it difficult for some brewers to expand their reach, particularly across the state.

Adding to the frustration of the craft brewers is that a distributor, once it has the territorial rights to a certain brewery, can then sell those rights to another distributor. So what can’t be measured, by law, in dollars on the front end carries significant value on the back end.

“There’s just no rational basis for the law,” Michael Peticolas, owner of his eponymous brewery in the Design District, said in an interview after Monday’s hearing.

See here for some background. The lawsuit was filed in 2014, and its root is in SB639, which passed during the 2013 session at the same time as the other bills that allowed microbreweries to sell their wares at their home locations. The Statesman adds on:

Karen Watkins, a lawyer from the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, defended the law on behalf of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and said the state must not weaken the current regulatory system.

In Texas, the sales of beer and liquor are governed by post-Prohibition rules that maintain strict boundaries between manufacturers, distributors and retailers. In the three-tier system, makers of beer, wine and spirits create their products, distributors sell them, and bars and other retailers peddle the beverages to the public.

“The government’s interest is in preserving the integrity to the three tier system,” Watkins said. She said the state intends to prevent any overlap between the manufacturing tier and the distributing tier.

Watkins said the law helps the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, for example, quickly remove tainted products from store shelves, if needed.

Arguing the case for the brewers, Matt Miller, an attorney for the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, said the case isn’t about the three tier system, but about fairness.

“It enriches distributors at the expense of craft brewers,” Miller said.

Miller said the law prevents many brewers from selling their products in some markets, which has the effect of providing less choice to consumers and fewer opportunities to expand for craft brewers that choose not to give away distribution rights.

As you know, I think the three-tier system is an archaic holdout from the Prohibition days that do nothing to enhance competition. Quite the reverse, in fact. Attorney Watkins went so far as to imply that success by the plaintiffs in this case would lead to organized crime, which thankfully the judge pushed back on. I’m rooting for the plaintiffs, as I’m sure you could guess. The judge says she expects to make a ruling in the next few weeks.

Posted in: Food, glorious food, Legal matters.

Texas loses another voting rights lawsuit

Good.

A federal judge Friday blocked Texas from enforcing a state law that limits the availability of interpreters in polling places, ruling that it violates protections guaranteed by the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Mallika Das, who was born in India and who, in October 2014, brought her son into a Round Rock polling station to act as an interpreter because she had limited proficiency in English.

Officials at the Williamson County polling station, however, barred Saurabh Das from helping his mother, relying on a state election law that requires interpreters to be registered to vote in the same county as the person they intend to help.

Because Saurabh Das was registered in Travis County, his mother had to vote without his help.

In a summary judgment relying on briefs and a hearing held Monday, Pitman ruled that the residency requirement violated Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, which guarantees voters the right to be helped by a person of their choice if they need assistance because of blindness, disability or inability to read or write.

To enjoy the same opportunity to vote as other citizens, Pitman wrote, limited-language voters must be able to navigate polling stations and communicate with election officers.

“They must be able to understand and fill out any required forms, and to understand and to answer any questions directed at them by election officers. And they must be able to do so with the assistance of a person whom they trust,” the judge added.

In addition to voiding the law on interpreters at the ballot box, Pitman gave state lawyers seven days to provide him with “additional remedies” needed to protect the rights of limited-language voters. Lawyers for Das will have another seven days to respond to the state’s suggestions.

See here for the background. I can’t find much coverage of this, nor even as much as a press release from the Organization of Chinese Americans-Greater Houston or Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who filed the lawsuit. As such, I can’t tell you anything more than what this story says. We know that the Lege passed a bill in 2013 by wide margins that would have addressed this issue, but Rick Perry vetoed it. A bad decision on his part, one of many he made over his too-long career. I’ll keep my eyes open for more information about those “additional remedies” the state is on the hook to provide.

UPDATE: Here’s the AALDEF statement.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Anne Sung will run for HISD

From Facebook:

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

I am running for HISD School Board-Position 7 in November 2016 and I invite you to join me in my campaign.

As a proud graduate of TH Rogers and Bellaire High School, I know how important a high quality education is to every Houstonian. I am a former educator and Teacher of the Year with 7 years of experience teaching physics and leading change in Texas public schools as well as 3 years as Chief Strategy Officer for Project GRAD. I understand Houston communities and higher education and know what it takes for our schools to be successful.

Together we can rebuild trust and buy-in across HISD, bringing administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents, and the community at large together so every HISD school delivers a quality education.

This race will be a sprint and with your support I know we can win. Join us at at http://anne4hisd.com/.

This is to replace Harvin Moore, who has announced his resignation and expressed a preference for there to be an election and not an appointment. He got his wish for that, as reported at the end of this story. Sung ran for the Board in 2013 against Moore – you can check out my interview with her from 2013 here – and could do well in a Presidential turnout year, given how the vote went that year. The winner of the November special election would have to run again in 2017 for a full term. Now that we know there will be one, I expect other candidates to make their interest known.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Servergy sued by more people

Servergy is the company Ken Paxton was paid to shill for without being up front about the fact that he was being paid to shill for them. That’s the context of this.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

The company tied to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s indictments lied to dozens of investors from Alabama about a “miracle” product it couldn’t sell, stockholders allege in a lawsuit that seeks to recoup nearly $3 million from the firm.

[…]

Now, dozens of Alabamans are suing, saying they invested $2.8 million in Servergy in 2013 after receiving “bogus” information about the firm’s success from Mapp and other leaders. Their stock is now worthless, they said, and they want their money back.

Their lawsuit was filed in February but hasn’t been previously reported. It was included as a “related pending case” in the federal lawsuit against Paxton. The attorney general is not mentioned by name and is not a target of the lawsuit, which was filed in Dallas County District Court, but the Alabama investors cite his indictment in their complaint.

In their suit, the Alabama investors said they were unaware the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating Servergy until the federal government sued the company to force it to comply with a subpoena for documents. Servergy never informed them of the probe, they say.

They allege that over the course of nearly a year in 2013, Servergy’s top officers held at least three “roadshow” presentations in their small city of Fairhope, hoping to entice new capital to help them fund a “miracle” server that was smaller yet more powerful than similar servers. Company representatives said they had pre-sold the server to Amazon, Netflix, NASA and the city of Beijing in China, and that Facebook, Walmart and CVS were also waiting on their product.

These claims “had no basis in fact,” the Alabama investors allege.

“Servergy’s claim that IBM and others were already waiting to buy out the Company, and that one such offer to purchase the Company already was in hand which would result in a quick 10-45% return for investors, was a lie,” the lawsuit says. “Even the chart that Servergy provided investors to tout the Company’s CTS-1000 server as compared to the competition was false.”

See here, here, and here for some background. This isn’t directly about Paxton, though without Servergy Paxton wouldn’t be in the trouble he’s in. And the allegations of utter dishonesty regarding the non-existent products Servergy – and by extension Paxton – was trying to get people to invest their money in goes to character. I mean, whatever the legalities of all this ultimately amount to, Paxton either had to know he was lying, or he didn’t do anywhere near the kind of due diligence he should have done before selling Servergy stock to his friends. His high-priced attorneys can’t make that fact go away.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Have we reached a tipping point on flood mitigation?

That’s a question that is alluded to but not directly addressed in this story.

“This is how the land is supposed to act,” said Mary Anne Piacentini, executive director of the Katy Prairie Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust. “It’s supposed to absorb water and filter out pollutants. It’s not supposed to send it roaring into the rivers and bayous and homes.”

In the greater Houston area, though, the staggering increase of impervious surfaces — roads, sidewalks, parking lots, anything covered with asphalt and concrete — has exacerbated the effects of flooding as development in the region has exploded. When land is covered by these surfaces, it loses ability to act like a sponge and soak up water. Things are further complicated in flat-as-a-pancake Houston, where much of the soil is heavily compacted and acts like pavement anyway, sending sheets of storm water to the nearest low-lying area.

A recent analysis of federal satellite data by the Houston Advanced Research Council for the Houston Chronicle shows that 337,000 acres of 1.1 million acres in Harris County were covered by impervious surfaces in 2011, the most recent year of data. That dwarfs surrounding counties, but the analysis shows many are catching up as the onslaught of development continues pushing from the city farther into the suburbs.

Between 2001 and 2011, Fort Bend County, for example, had a 53 percent increase in impervious surfaces, more than twice the percentage increase in Harris County during the same period. Waller County, home to much of the Katy Prairie, saw a 17 percent increase.

That kind of development comes with a price, namely the loss of the region’s natural landscape, including wetlands, prairies, coastal marshlands and forests, and thereby a greater risk of flooding. Even with federal regulations in place to preserve wetlands, the 14-county Houston region lost more than 54,000 acres of wetlands between 1996 and 2010, according to HARC’s analysis.

“Pitiful,” said John Jacob, a Texas A&M University professor and director of the Texas Coastal Watershed Program.

As large tracts of undeveloped land have been transformed by new roads, homes and businesses, city and county planners have relied almost exclusively on detention basins — often referred to as detention ponds — to solve the water runoff problem created by the region’s vast asphalt and concrete surfaces.

Detention basins are man-made structures designed to capture storm-water runoff and temporarily store it. Harris County first began requiring them of developers in the early 1980s, and neighboring counties quickly followed. Today, each county in the region has hundreds of the ponds, both dry and wet.

However, these detention requirements have fallen short in attempting to tackle the source of the flooding problem because they do not require developers to eliminate runoff from their projects.

Many Houston-area homeowners blame inadequate storm-water mitigation rules for their flooding woes. City and county officials disagree, but concede it’s difficult to untangle the effects of new development, flood control projects and climate change when trying to determine the culprit for the region’s worsening flood problem. The issue came to a head recently for a group of west Houston residents who sued the city a couple of months ago claiming it is allowing developers to circumvent storm-water safeguards.

“I can show you on any individual project how runoff has been properly mitigated,” Montgomery County Engineer Mark Mooney said. “Having said that, when you see the increase in impervious surfaces that we have, it’s clear the way water moves through our county has changed. “It’s all part of a massive puzzle everyone is trying to sort out.”

This story is part five of a series, for which earlier and related stories are here. It notes that Fort Bend appears to be doing better than Harris County in terms of mitigation, as they had our example to learn from and mandated more stringent rules for its detention ponds. Fort Bend has also seen an awful lot of its permeable land become impervious in recent years, so who knows how well that will hold up as development continues. The scary thing to me is the shrinking of the Katy Prairie, which does so much of the heavy lifting for the region. It’s not like we can make more of that, and it’s getting harder to find space for the often-inadequate detention ponds that we build here in Harris County. It would help if we had fewer 23-inches-in-14-hours type rainstorms, but the feeling I get is that we’re in a new normal, and we need to figure out how to cope with that.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Still considering the possibility that Hillary could win Texas

Josh Barro looks at recent national poll numbers and contemplates the possibilities.

Hillary Clinton

If things get just a little bit worse for Trump nationally, he could start losing a lot of states we normally think of as very safe for Republicans — not just Georgia, but states like Texas, South Carolina, and even Mississippi.

Even as he polls badly nationally, Trump is performing remarkably well among whites without a college degree, especially men. He’s getting hammered among college-educated whites, especially women, and he’s doing even worse with nonwhite voters than Republican nominees usually do.

Overall, these shifts hurt Trump more in some states than in others.

In a state like Pennsylvania, you can see these effects counterbalancing each other across regions. Trump’s weakness with college-educated whites leads to him getting crushed in the suburbs of Philadelphia. (The recent Franklin & Marshall poll has him down by 40 points in those areas; Romney lost the region by just 9 points.) But that’s partly offset by gains among working-class whites elsewhere in the state.

But in states like Georgia and Texas, white voters already vote overwhelmingly Republican, and Republicans depend on huge margins among whites to overcome the votes of large, heavily Democratic nonwhite populations. So if Trump loses support among college-educated white women in the suburbs of Atlanta and Dallas, not many high-school-educated white men are available for him to pick up, and upscale whites and nonwhite voters could form a majority coalition for Clinton.

Plus, Republican candidates have usually picked up a significant share of the Hispanic vote in Texas, meaning there is room for Trump to do worse than Romney among nonwhites in the state.

[…]

Romney won Texas by 16 points in 2012 while losing the whole country by 4, but Clinton does not need to win nationally by 20 points to have an excellent shot of winning Texas. A national margin in the low teens could do it.

Texas hasn’t been publicly polled since June. I’m very interested to see the next poll.

So am I. Looking at the sidebar for the 2012 poll numbers, we really didn’t start to get much until late September. I’m hoping we don’t have to wait that long this year, but we’ll see.

Speculating about Hillary Clinton winning Texas is fanciful enough, but I figured, why not take that to the next level? That would be to try to extrapolate what might happen downballot if she is truly competitive with Donald Trump at the top. Let’s acknowledge up front that Clinton is very likely to run well ahead of downballot Democrats, thanks to Republicans who cross over to vote for her or who abandon Trump to undervote or go Libertarian. She’ll have some coattails if Democratic base turnout is boosted, and Trump will have some anti-coattails if Republicans are discouraged, but the cumulative effect will be much greater for her than it will be for anyone else. In other words, take this already exuberant premise and apply another few shakes of salt to it before proceeding.

With all that out of the way, I looked at the 2012 statewide results for Congress, the SBOE, the Senate, and the House. I indexed the percentages in each district race to a hypothetical world in which both the R and D Presidential candidates received exactly 50% of the vote, which is a fancy way of saying I increased each Democrat’s percentage by about 20% and decreased each Republicans by about 12.5%. That leads to some oddball numbers, since in reality the R plus D totals often did not add up to 100%, but it does illuminate where the interesting action would be in that scenario. Here’s what we get:


Dist      Adj R%    Adj D%
==========================
CD06      50.74%    47.40%
CD07      53.18%    44.02%
CD10      52.93%    43.80%
CD14      51.86%    47.61%
CD21      52.96%    42.77%
CD24      53.37%    43.50%
CD25      51.11%    45.24%
CD27      49.63%    47.39%
CD32      50.97%    47.68%


SBOE5     44.87%    51.51%
SBOE6     50.00%    47.16%
SBOE10    49.50%    52.44%


HD23      47.78%    53.41%
HD43      45.09%    58.54%
HD47      50.72%    47.49%
HD54      50.30%    51.34%
HD65      51.71%    46.62%
HD85      51.03%    50.33%
HD93      51.56%    45.34%
HD97      51.98%    45.49%
HD102     50.01%    51.80%
HD105     43.79%    58.31%
HD107     44.46%    59.40%
HD108     51.60%    47.46%
HD112     48.10%    52.56%
HD113     45.92%    55.94%
HD114     46.36%    55.40%
HD115     48.37%    50.06%
HD117     40.84%    62.59%
HD118     37.87%    66.70%
HD134     47.79%    54.81%
HD135     52.79%    47.90%
HD136     46.40%    49.20%
HD144     41.89%    61.38%

You may notice that in some cases, the two-party totals exceed 100%. That’s an artifact of the Presidential race only adding up to about 98.5% in reality, but to 100% in this exercise. I applied the adjustment factor to the totals of the candidates who were running for that specified office, so if there were only two candidates in the district race, the adjusted percentages will exceed 100; if there were other candidates, and they took a higher share of the vote than the non-R and D Presidential candidates did, the resulting totals will fall short. The exact numbers aren’t that important. What I’m trying to illustrate here is what some district races may look like if it really is the case that Hillary Clinton is neck and neck with Donald Trump in Texas, and not just because Republicans have abandoned him. This is a thought experiment of how the landscape might change if Democrats were truly competitive at a statewide level.

You may also note that in a lot of cases Democrats are farther below 50% after adjustment than Republicans are above it. That’s the situation in most of the highlighted Congressional races. For these races, the Republican incumbent didn’t do much better than Mitt Romney’s 57.17%, but the Democrats fell several point short of President Obama’s 41.38%. Third party candidates account for the gap, and my guess is that while they draw more from the Rs than from the Ds, weakness among the D candidates holds down their total as well. In a race where ambient conditions make for a competitive contest, candidate quality can be a difference-maker. In a fully hypothetical scenario, we could assume some level of equity between the candidates, which might allow some Dems to win races where they are slightly outnumbered, but in reality (or at least, this reality with the silly hypothetical I’ve constructed layered onto it) most of the challengers would not have the resources to take advantage of the upgrade to their environment. In other words, most of these Republican incumbents could withstand this level of threat to them, and at least a little bit more. If Dems could have known a year or so ago what was coming, they could have recruited and fundraised better to put themselves in a more competitive position. That’s hindsight for you.

There are no Senate races listed here because by luck of the post-redistricting draw, all of the potentially interesting Senate races – I’m thinking specifically SDs 09, 10, 16, and 17 – are on the non-Presidential cycle this decade. Of the ones that are on the ballot this year, Hillary would probably have to top 55%, maybe more, for them to become close. Even I can’t spin a yarn than frazzled.

You may note that the math for a few districts doesn’t match up with the candidates’ actual performance from 2012. In CD14, the Democrat was former Rep. Nick Lampson, who greatly outperformed other Dems in the district. Nobody running this year was going to get match was he did, so I substituted the Presidential numbers for that race. I did the same for a couple of State House races as well, like HD113, where there wasn’t a challenger in 2012 but there is one this year. By the same token, I skipped a couple of State House races that might have been interesting had there been a Democrat on the ballot, like HD45, but as there isn’t there wasn’t any point.

Finally, there are several districts that were won by Dems in 2012 but are now held by Republicans – HDs 23, 117, 118, and 144, in particular. Again, I used the 2012 Obama/Romney numbers as proxies. In the case of HD23, this more accurately reflects the district’s Republican lean, which was masked by the re-election numbers of then-incumbent Rep. Craig Eiland. All of the other districts were already Dem-leaning without any boost from Trump, so the adjusted numbers are especially blue.

Anyway. I’ll say again, this is for entertainment purposes only. If in mid-to-late October Hillary Clinton is polling in the high 40s or better against Trump, we can revisit. In the meantime, consider this an added bit of incentive to boost turnout in your own districts.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Rangers hand off Miller case to Travis County DA

Here we go.

Sid Miller

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office has begun reviewing the findings of a criminal investigation into Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s travel, a top prosecutor said Friday.

“We received the investigation (from the Texas Department of Public Safety) earlier this week,” said the prosecutor, Gregg Cox, the head of Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit. “It is under review.”

The review can take awhile, meaning that it may be another few weeks, or more, before Miller learns whether he will face charges for allegedly using taxpayer money for personal travel, including a trip to Oklahoma on which he may have received a pain-curing injection known as “The Jesus Shot.”

Still, the news means that there has been progress in the probe into Miller, which began in April following a series of Houston Chronicle stories about his travel.

So to recap, there were two complaints filed against Miller, one for the Jesus Shot trip and one for the Mississippi Rodeo trip. The key to each complaint is the allegation that Miller used taxpayer funds for personal travel, which is a no-no. Miller has told ridiculous lies and made clumsy attempts to cover his tracks, to the point where his spokesperson bailed the hell out because it was just too embarrassing. Now, none of this means that an actual crime was committed, and if we’ve learned one thing from the scandals of recent years it’s that often the laws cited in the charges for these crimes are ill-fitted to the facts, making the indictments broad targets for skilled defense attorneys. We’re likely a few weeks away from a decision on whether or not to file charges, and if charges are filed we’re anywhere from months to years away from a resolution. So settle in and get comfortable, this could take awhile.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Turner endorses Ike Dike

Interesting.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has endorsed the “Ike Dike” storm surge protection proposal, raising the possibility that Houston could be one of the last cities in the Galveston Bay area to endorse the $6 billion project.

If the Houston City Council passes a resolution endorsing the Ike Dike concept, the Bayou City would become the 27th municipality in the region to back the plan aimed at protecting Harris, Galveston and Chambers counties.

A Houston City Council resolution supporting the plan would give important political momentum to the Ike Dike concept, which would need federal money to be undertaken.

“I look forward to advancing this effort with my colleagues on the Houston City Council,” Turner wrote in his Aug. 5 letter to state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, the co-chairman of the Texas Joint Interim Committee to Study a Coastal Barrier System.

See here for previous Ike Dike blogging. There have been two main hangups to getting something done for hurricane mitigation – agreeing on a single plan, and funding it. Mayor Turner’s endorsement of the Ike Dike consolidates support for that particular idea, and consolidating political support behind one plan makes it more likely that Congress will eventually be persuaded to cough up some money to pay for it. Getting the Lege behind that plan, which is what the Mayor’s letter alludes to, would help with that as well. Another thing to keep an eye on next spring.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

“Just Like Every Other Kid”

From the Observer:

RedEquality

Texas’ child welfare apparatus is in a shambles. Zika virus threatens to put some of our most vulnerable in danger. Low oil prices have fiscal leaders worried about the future of the state’s budget. State lawmakers are facing accusations of rampant abuse of taxpayer funds in the form of unsanctioned “emergency leave” policies for certain employees. Our attorney general has been indicted on felony fraud charges. Climate change, as ever, threatens the environmental and economic survival of our communities.

And yet Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is worried about who’s using the bathroom. The Houston talk radio host and bar owner-turned-statesman has been traveling across Texas, fomenting fear about transgender people, including kids at school, using restrooms for nefarious purposes.

The narrative worked when it came to defeating a Houston equal rights ordinance that would have protected everyone from veterans to pregnant people. “No men in women’s bathrooms” got people to the polls in Houston, although there’s no evidence that trans people use nondiscrimination laws to shield themselves from prosecution for sex crimes. Patrick also continues to demand the resignation of Fort Worth ISD superintendent Kent Scribner over his issuance of district rules that allow trans kids to use the right bathroom at school.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has been both following in Patrick’s footsteps and forging a new path in the form of a multi-state lawsuit against federal guidelines that encourage schools to let trans kids take care of their needs where they’re most comfortable.

To have Patrick and Paxton tell it, the biggest threat to Texas today is a trans child. Never mind that 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide, compared to 4.6 percent of the overall population. Transgender people are seven times more likely to face physical violence at the hands of police. An estimated 125,350 transgender people call Texas home. Many of them are kids, who, of course, have to use the restroom at school.

We asked them about it — though we wish we didn’t have to — and also wanted to know: What could state leaders be doing to help Texas kids and families? Are their schools accommodating their needs? How had they been affected by officials’ rhetoric?

In this issue of the Observer, we’ll meet five families — of Kat Smith, Eri Reeves, Alex Kinmore, Kai Shappley and Ben Elder — navigating what is often a hostile landscape for trans people and, in particular, trans kids.

I encourage you to click the links and read these people’s stories. This is who Dan Patrick – whom you may recall still doesn’t have the guts to even meet with any of these children – is fearmongering about. See for yourself if he, or you, has anything to be so afraid of.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Weekend link dump for August 14

Derek Jeter celebrates Ichiro Suzuki and his pursuit of 3,000 hits. Easily my favorite Ichiro story is how he learned Spanish phrases so he could banter with/trash talk Latino players.

There’s a new world record for mattress stacking, and it was set in Wichita Falls, Texas. You’re welcome.

What Ibtihaj Muhammad says.

A-Rod‘s playing career is officially over. Whatever you may think of him, he was an amazing talent, and we’ll never see anyone quite like him again.

So long, Scary Lucy. Hello, better, less-scary Lucille Ball statue.

“Lacking the leadership qualities to be president is an issue that’s entirely separate from being mentally ill. On top of that, calls to evaluate Trump’s mental state are distracting people from the real reason Trump should scare the American public — the fact that he stands for the unabashed celebration of white supremacy and misogyny.”

What does “We have to take a side” really mean?

How is it that paddling is still considered an appropriate form of discipline in schools?

“This run is tailor-made for a handful of GOP insiders to con a king’s ransom out of elderly rich conservatives to make pointless TV ads and email blasts. All the better that it’s foreordained to fail, because that way it can be framed as a noble rearguard action and the donors won’t be mad when Clinton wins.”

The whole purpose of the Electoral College is to be un-democratic.

“By the way, if you want to understand why Paul Ryan has held to his endorsement of Trump, despite the many humiliations and embarrassments Trump has visited on Ryan, this is the answer: Trump is willing to sign some version of Ryan’s budget into law, and Hillary Clinton isn’t.”

I agree, make LA the home of the Olympics. They have the facilities and the track record.

RIP, John Saunders, longtime ESPN reporter.

More pot research is a good thing.

Is ComicCon moving out of San Diego? Probably not.

Shoutout to Denino’s Pizza, easily the best thing to come out of Staten Island. Also, Lee’s Tavern is excellent. Go have some pizza at either or both places next time you’re on the Island.

“Again, the final tally could be much closer, but we should remember that Trump’s current predicament is not the result of any one gaffe or misstep or string of bad luck — it’s the result of an actual campaign that Hillary’s running very well and Trump is running very poorly.”

Turns out Obama derangement syndrome has a price.

Please enjoy these photos of Boomer Phelps wearing earmuffs.

“Simone Manuel’s Olympic gold is also a victory over swimming’s racist history”.

RIP, Kenny Baker, best known as R2D2 from the original Star Wars movies.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Beatty’s memo

From the Trib:

Texas Democrats are being told they have their “greatest opportunities in a generation” this November with Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee and majorities of voters viewing corruption as a major problem in state government.

Austin-based Democratic pollster Leland Beatty argues, in a memo obtained by The Texas Tribune, that several factors, including an anticipated drop in GOP straight-ticket voting, could provide beleaguered state Democrats their biggest opening in 20 years. His predictions come as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton continues to trounce Trump in all national and most battleground state polling, raising questions about his strength even in some reliably red states.

In Texas, 20 state House districts may be in play out of 39 where there is a GOP incumbent and a Democratic challenger on the ballot, Beatty wrote. In all 39 districts, a majority of those expected to vote — ranging from 52 percent to 72 percent — see corruption as widespread in Texas government, according to Beatty’s projections.

[…]

One caveat to Beatty’s analysis involves money. In the 20 House races that could be competitive, he said the Democratic candidates “do not appear financially ready to compete,” with 13 having reported less than $5,000 in the bank as of June 30.

See here for a copy of the memo, and here for the poll conducted last month. I’ve chatted with Beatty a bit since that ran, and he mentioned some of this stuff to me during our conversations. I don’t know which House races he has in mind specifically, but as it happens I’ve got a post in the works that speculates in that general direction, and I strongly suspect I’ve hit on many if not all of the districts he has in mind. Look for that post tomorrow.

As for the money issue, I’ll just say this: Both Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine have been saying some suggestive things about competing in Texas. No one really believes that, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t direct a few donors to put some bucks into downballot Texas races, or just towards general GOTV/turnout efforts. It wouldn’t take much to have an effect, and it would be a decent investment in loyalty, if nothing else. Or you know, if you’re one of those people that likes Democrats and has some money burning a hole in your pocket, you could pick a few of these races to get involved in. Nothing like investing locally, right? At some point, that’s what we’re going to have to do regardless of what else is happening.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Auditor asked to investigate Heidi Group health care grant

Good.

Right there with them

Right there with them

The left-leaning nonprofit Progress Texas is asking the state auditor’s office to investigate a $1.6 million state contract awarded to an anti-abortion group under the state’s new Healthy Texas Women program.

[…]

The Heidi Group does not currently provide medical services or employ medical staff, but founder Carol Everett has said that her group will coordinate with medical providers in rural areas to provide contraception, cancer screenings and other services.

According to Progress Texas advocacy director Lucy Stein, that raises some red flags about whether the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) improperly awarded the funds to Everett’s group.

[…]

In its request for an investigation, Progress Texas notes that Everett serves on the Women’s Health Advisory Committee, which provides input to the state health department on the implementation of its retooled reproductive health care safety net. Texas has spent the last year or so reorganizing after anti-abortion lawmakers barred Planned Parenthood from receiving public funds, and the $18 million Healthy Texas Women program is the result.

Progress Texas questioned whether a group that until a few weeks ago operated with the stated mission of “helping girls and women with unplanned pregnancies make life-affirming choices” because abortion is “contrary to God’s will” could provide the medical services promised by the new program.

See here for the background. I can’t find the aforementioned statement anywhere, but Progress Texas does have this call to action on their webpage, along with a video introduction to Heidi Group founder Carol Everett. Any time a group with no experience in a particular field receives a grant to provide services in that field, there ought to be questions about how that happened. Add in the Heidi Group’s political advocacy and you can see the potential for shenanigans. I hope the auditor agrees to take a look at this.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Land acquisition for the high speed rail line

It’s going great, according to the CEO of Texas Central High Speed Railway.

Realty News Report: When will Texas’ first high-speed passenger railway between Dallas and Houston actually begin service?

Tim B. Keith: We expect to begin construction on the nation’s first truly high-speed train system as early as next year. We expect that construction will last about four years, and that 2022 will be the first full year service.

Realty News Report: Has any land been acquired yet?

Tim B. Keith: Overall, the response to the project’s ongoing work with landowners has been positive. We have recently begun a voluntary land purchase program. As a result of personalized conversations with landowners we are encouraged with the progress. Our conversations with landowners are in various stages of the process, including those who have fully agreed to sell their land.

Realty News Report: There’s a massive amount of right-of-way to be acquired between Houston and Dallas and eminent domain will be employed. Can you please tell us about your plan for undertaking this?

Tim B. Keith: High-speed rail has one of the smallest land footprints per user of any method of transportation. We estimate that the train will operate on a very narrow footprint at approximately 100-150 feet wide in areas where the tracks will run. The project’s land purchase program has recently begun and we are encouraged by its early results. Texas’ Constitution and state statutes have long granted eminent domain authority to railroads such as Texas Central, as well as pipeline companies, electric power companies and other industries. All support the creation of infrastructure necessary to serve the public efficiently and enjoy a healthy economy. The development of a high-speed train that will bring widespread benefits to Texans is built on positive relationships directly with property owners, and any use of this legal authority would be as a last resort. Our goal is to work with landowners and never have to use the court system in this process. With the growth of population over time, high-speed rail is the most efficient way to move the most people using the most efficient amount of land.

The rest is all stuff we know. It’s not surprising to think that some people have been happy to sell to Texas Central. Some others can probably be persuaded, with a third group not being interested at all. For this latter group, Texas Central will need to use eminent domain to get the land they need, but to get to that point they’ll have to survive the 2017 Legislature as well as an AG opinion, either of which could block them. If nothing bad has happened to them in the next ten months or so, they ought to be in great shape. If not, I hope they have a Plan B in place. Link via Swamplot.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

The Food Bank’s new home

I wish them all the best at their new address.

The giant “End Hunger” message emblazoned in green on the Houston Food Bank building just north of downtown will soon go away as the charitable organization plans to start cooking hot meals for hungry kids at a larger kitchen under construction inside its east Houston warehouse by 2017.

“It’s been nice,” Food Bank president Brian Greene said. “It’s in a nice prominent spot on I-45, but functionally, we’ve outgrown it, and it’s really limited how many children’s meals we can do.”

The operation of the Mary Barden Keegan Center at 2445 North Freeway will move to a new 10,000-square-foot kitchen inside 535 Portwall 6 miles east of downtown.

Relocating the kitchen will enable the Food Bank to increase its capacity fivefold, to 20,000 meals a day. The new kitchen will be able to accommodate up to 80 volunteers at a time. The kitchen is used to produce meals distributed to 70 after-school and summer program sites for the Kids Cafe.

[…]

Greene sees the new kitchen as another opportunity to make the headquarters a place that volunteers from companies, churches and other groups want to be.

The food bank moved to the Portwall facility, off Interstate 10 East just inside east Loop 610, in 2010 after buying and renovating the former Sysco Distribution Center. The property consists of a 272,711-square-foot warehouse, a 153,341-square-foot freezer building and a 15,870-square-foot truck center.

The facility was built out with about 40,000 square feet of space for volunteers to make the food ready for distribution through some 600 charities in 18 Southeast Texas counties. It’s also designed to be fun, with a choice of music piped in to work areas. It includes conference space for companies to host meetings.

“Volunteers do the vast majority of the actual work here,” Greene said. “Making this a place where people want to come is a big deal for us.”

“We’ll lose the I-45 frontage, but I think we’ll actually gain far more in people actually engaging with us to come to work.”

I’ve been to the new facility, and while it’s not as easily accessible it is a whole lot bigger and should serve the Food Bank’s needs well into the future. Give it a visit, and volunteer some time if you can. They do great work and they need all the help we can give them.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Saturday video break: Love On The Air

I’m going to indulge my Pete Townshend fixation for the next two weeks. First, here’s former Pink Floyd guitarist and friend of Townshend David Gilmour with a single from his 1984 CD “About Face”:

And here he is performing the same song live, with Pete Townshend, at the latter’s legendary Deep End Live show:

Gilmour backed Townshend on the other songs during this show, and here you can see Pete enjoying himself as he returns the favor. Not all of the songs from this show are on the live CD, but thankfully the ones that aren’t live on YouTube. Do yourself a favor and check them all out.

Posted in: Music.

No ruling yet in potty lawsuit

We should get one soon, at least as far as the request for an injunction goes.

RedEquality

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor did not issue a ruling from the bench after an almost two-hour long hearing during which state attorneys — as part of a Texas-led, 13-state effort to block the guidelines — argued they unconstitutionally “hold a gun to the head” of states and school districts.

In the first hearing over the state’s lawsuit against the federal government, Austin Nimocks, associate deputy for special litigation in the Texas Attorney General’s office, told O’Connor that the federal government “usurped” the authority of states and schools by requiring that “sexes must be mixed” in “intimate areas” like bathrooms.

[…]

But Texas jumped the gun in filing the lawsuit because the federal government has not moved forward with any enforcement action against a school, said Benjamin Berwick, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. Because of that, Berwick argued, Texas and the dozen other states that joined the lawsuit have no legal standing.

“Even if the guidance documents didn’t exist, the [federal government] could still bring enforcement based on understanding of the law as it pertains to transgender individuals,” Berwick argued. The difference is that entities would not have the “benefits” of knowing how the feds are interpreting the nondiscrimination protections.

During the hearing, Nimocks regularly described the guidelines as coercive because schools were required to change their policies or risk losing federal funds over unconstitutional rules that were “legislative in nature” but passed without congressional approval.

“They cannot simply say they are clarifying” existing law, Nimocks said, adding that the new rules were not consistent with the use of the sex category by Congress in the federal statutes, where it has been kept separate from gender identity.

See here and here for some background, and here for a story from before the hearing. As my children know all too well, school starts in nine days, so expect a ruling this week. Judge O’Connor is being asked to impose a nationwide halt on the directive, which is kind of a big deal especially with more than half of the states not being involved in the litigation. I suppose a more limited injunction is a possibility, but we’ll see.

Posted in: Legal matters.

KTVT/Dixie Strategies poll: Trump 46, Clinton 35

Here’s poll #3 for Texas.

Most national presidential polls have put Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in front of GOP nominee Donald Trump by as much as 15 percentage points. But the latest KTVT-CBS 11/Dixie Strategies Poll shows that the Lone Star State is holding onto its red reputation.

Data released on Thursday has 46 percent of likely voters across Texas casting their ballots for the divisive Republican candidate, if the election were held today. That overshadows Clinton by 11 points who has 35 percent support. Of those surveyed, nearly 60 percent have a negative opinion of Trump while nearly 37 percent have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of the New York real estate mogul.

Clinton is viewed “very unfavorably” or “somewhat unfavorably” by more than 66 percent of surveyed Texans. Clinton was found to be “somewhat favorable” or “very favorable” by 31 percent of surveyed Texans. “Rightly or wrongly, a lot of people simply don’t trust her,” stated CBS News contributor and former “Face the Nation” moderator Bob Schieffer last month.

The results were nearly the opposite among Hispanics, with Clinton getting almost 48 percent of the Latino vote in Texas over Trump’s 32 percent.

[…]

Poll numbers were greatly in favor of Clinton when it came strictly to African American voters. More than 71 percent of blacks across the Lone Star State said that they would vote Clinton, while Trump only received about 13 percentage points among the minority group. Voters of other races also favored Clinton by just about three percentage points.

There’s some demographic breakdown at the link above, but it’s limited, and you don’t know what the subsample sizes are, so beware of any broad conclusions. That said, the most interesting figure is the one for white voters, which has Trump leading 50.73% to 31.46%. That’s probably 25 points lower than what Romney got among white voters in 2012, and a seven or eight point improvement by Clinton over Obama. Again, not to make a big deal about one subgroup, but do note that from September on, the worst showing Mitt Romney had in any Texas poll was 52%. Clinton’s 35% puts her three to six points behind Obama for that set of polls, but Trump is six to twelve points behind Romney. No matter how you loom at it, this continues to be a very different race than 2012 was.

Anyway. PPP will be polling Texas shortly, so we’ll get another post-convention result to see where we stand.

Posted in: The making of the President.

El Paso revises its rideshare rules

Uber gets its preferred regimen.

Uber

The El Paso City Council approved an ordinance designed to ease regulations and fees on taxis and ride-sharing companies like Uber.

Amendments to the Transportation for Hire Ordinance, which Council approved unanimously on Tuesday, requires all businesses have an operating authority permit and drivers pass a background check. It will also do away with 26 fees and cut costs up to 95 percent.

[…]

Other loosened regulations include no longer requiring drivers to have a medical certification and outdated two-way radios. City vehicle inspections will be eliminated and driver and vehicle permits will not be required. The age limit on vehicles has also been removed.

The newly-passed ordinance also requires companies to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles upon request. That means Uber would have to have an agreement with a cab company to pick up a client if they did not have a vehicle available.

See here for a preview of the vote, and this story from May about the direction El Paso took in redoing its rules. They basically took the approach of easing or removing regulations that had been in place for traditional cab companies rather than retrofitting existing rules to Uber. And yes, that means no fingerprint requirements, which as you can see from that first story is not what the cab companies wanted. As is their way, Uber had threatened to leave El Paso if the rules weren’t changed; their triumphant press release following this action congratulates them for becoming “the 13th Texas city to adopt modern ridesharings rules”. One presumes Lyft has an interest in this as well, but as of today they don’t operate in El Paso, so we’ll see if that changes.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Endorsement watch: Still not wasting any time

The Chron makes a Civil Court endorsement, way ahead of when they normally do this sort of thing.

HarrisCounty

Harris County Civil Court at Law 1 doesn’t handle the big-money issues that are bread and butter for white-shoe law firms. But for the people who do come before that court, the cases can feel as important as a multi-million dollar suit. Low-level civil disputes, property condemnation cases and evictions and appeals from justice of the peace cases fill the docket for this mid-level court. People will often appear without lawyers and cases can mean the difference between homelessness and a roof over one’s head.

Judges need to be well-versed in the law, but also harbor a healthy compassion for the people who find themselves unprepared and ill-equipped to navigate the legal system. In his meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, incumbent Judge Clyde R. Leuchtag demonstrated an impressive balance between these at-times conflicting drives.

“I feel strongly that I need to follow the law,” Leuchtag said. “But at the same time I think within the law I can help people who are underdogs make sure that they get their day in court.”

[…]

A graduate of Rice University and the South Texas College of Law, Leuchtag also had stints at the Baker Botts law firm and at Shell as a litigator. He exhibits the steady judicial temperament possessed by the best judges. No wonder that we only heard words of praise from his Democratic opponent, George Barnstone.

“If I wasn’t running in this race, I’d probably vote for Clyde,” he told the editorial board.

Barnstone is as amiable a candidate as we have seen, but he can’t match Leuchtag’s experience.

I understood why the Chron wasted no time endorsing Hillary Clinton for President. I’m less clear on why they felt the need to rush this one out the door. Maybe they’ve changed their interview process, in which case we’ll see more of these before we would normally expect them. Be that as it may, I’ll share that Judge Leuchtag was present at the Democratic precinct convention at which Rodney Ellis was formally nominated for Commissioners Court. He was handing out campaign literature – that event was obviously a good opportunity to do such a thing – though none of the materials he had identified him as a Republican. Which, given the event in question, I can understand. Give the man credit for creative opportunism.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 8

Folk songs and disco. What more could you want?

1. Doctor’s Orders – Carol Douglas
2. I Feel The Earth Move – Carole King
3. Snowden’s Jig – Carolina Chocolate Drops (Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla)
4. Momma Don’t Like My Friends – Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys
5. Blown Away – Carrie Underwood
6. Crazy Man Michael – Ceili’s Muse (Maggie Drennon, Mary Maddux)
7. I Feel For You – Chaka Khan
8. ¿(Mamacita) Donde Esta Santa Claus? – Charo
9. Strange – Chelsey Scott
10. Blowin’ In The Wind (A Female Perspective) – The Chenille Sisters

Leave it to Charo to produce the best disco Christmas song ever. Do you think Carole King ever wonders if she would have been as successful if she’d started out as a singer instead of a songwriter? She did pretty well for herself as it was, I’m just curious.

Posted in: Music.

Texas finds a new way to be hostile to women’s health

I feel like it must be someone’s job somewhere to come up with stuff like this.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A group led by an anti-abortion advocate appears to be one of the largest recipients of state funding from the “Healthy Texas Women” program, which lawmakers recently created to help women find health care services paid for by the state.

The Heidi Group, a Round Rock-based center that has promoted alternatives to abortion to low-income women, is set to receive $1.6 million from the women’s health program, according to the comptroller’s office. That makes it the second-highest grant recipient on the current list, behind the Harris County public health department, which will receive $1.7 million.

[…]

The Heidi Group “will now be providing women’s health and family planning services required by Healthy Texas Women, including birth control, STI screening and treatment, plus cancer screenings to women across Texas,” state agency spokesman Bryan Black said in an email.

Black said the group had already recruited doctors to begin establishing family planning clinics across the state. He also said the women’s health program’s contracts were not final and that there were “more to come.” The program offers $18 million each year.

Abortion-rights supporters lambasted the Heidi Group’s contract.

“It’s very inappropriate that the state would contract with an organization that has never performed the services required by the contract,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, in a statement. “The Heidi Group is an anti-abortion organization; it is not a healthcare provider.”

This is a political advocacy group that has been given a contract to provide health care. What could possibly go wrong with that? The Observer gives another reason to be concerned:

[Heidi Group founder Carol] Everett made headlines in early August following her testimony at a Texas Department of State Health Services meeting on new rules about fetal tissue disposal in Texas. There, she asserted that currently allowable means of fetal tissue disposal could result in HIV and other sexually transmitted infections being released into public water supplies, which she later repeated to an Austin Fox affiliate. Her concerns are not echoed by any major medical or public health groups.

So this is like hiring Jenny McCarthy to run your immunization program. This is what the state of Texas under Greg Abbott thinks about women’s healthcare. The Press, which has a more sympathetic portrait of Everett, and the Current, which is harsher, have more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Who’s willing to pay for more flood mitigation?

I have three things to say about this.

Commissioner Steve Radack

Commissioner Steve Radack

Harris county’s four commissioners said Wednesday they could support either a property tax increase or reallocation of funds in the county budget to better fund flood control projects after a series of storms and floods this spring destroyed property and claimed the lives of more than a dozen people.

[…]

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said he would support a tax increase if there was a concrete plan on what to do with the extra revenue, and Gene Locke of Precinct 1 said through a spokeswoman he could likely get behind such a measurebut also would want the federal government to help pay more for flood control projects.

The two other commissioners – Jack Cagle in Precinct 4 and Jack Morman in Precinct 2 – said they would not support increasing the tax rate but could support reallocating funds to tackle flooding problems.

County Judge Ed Emmett declined to comment, but said through a spokesman he would not weigh in before a specific proposal was on the table.

The discussion about a possible property tax rate increase was sparked by recent comments Radack made at a meeting with a civic group in Cypress, which was recently hard-hit by flooding.

“I will tell you right now, I will vote for a tax increase for the Harris County Flood Control District,” Radack said to dozens in the audience last week, noting that he’s the only commissioner on court who has ever voted for a property tax increase. “But I’m one person. I’m not criticizing my colleagues. I’m just telling you this. That’s the way it is.”

On Wednesday, Radack reiterated his support for a tax increase, but qualified his position somewhat saying he would want to see a list of projects vetted by the public and by county government and would want to involve the city of Houston and the federal government in helping fund the projects.

He said he would want to have county voters weigh in on a potential bond issue that outlined that list of projects.

“I would support a tax increase for flood control, I would support it,” he said. “Now bear in mind, you don’t just have a tax increase without a plan.”

[…]

The tax rate for the flood control district is currently about 4 cents per $100 of assessed property value, [county budget officer Bill] Jackson said. That includes the amount designated directly for the flood control district – 2.7 cents per $100 – as well as a chunk that’s being used by the county to pay down debt.

The flood control district’s property tax rate can be raised by commissioners to no more than 30 cents per $100, Jackson said.

Morman was adamant, however, that he would not support an overall tax increase to solve the problem.

“I’m a homeowner, most of my constituents are homeowners, we already pay enough property taxes,” Morman said. “It’s kind of like enough is enough at some point.”

Morman said he could also support reallocation of funds, but did not know exactly where that money would come from.

Locke could in theory support a tax rate increase, though he would need to see the final plans and would want the federal government to help pay for more flood control projects, spokeswoman Mary Benton said.

Cagle said he would not support an overall tax increase, but would support reallocating funds toward flood control from the county’s public hospital district. In the past, they had been reallocated toward the hospital district and away from flood control, he said.

“I believe the taxpayers are interested in a reallocation of the tax base back to making flood control the priority that it once was,” Cagle said.

1. This was what Radack was talking about when he made his infamous “some people enjoy flooding” remarks. The Press had a story that ran after I published that included his thoughts on the tax rate, and I think there’s a lot to what he’s saying here. He definitely put his foot in his mouth on this point – I get what he was trying to say, but you’d think a guy who’s been in office for as long as he has might have a better grasp of how not to say things in the worst possible way – and he deserves the heat he’s getting, but the rest of what he said should not be lost.

2. Morman and Cagle’s insistence that we don’t need to raise any more revenue, we just need to shuffle things around in the budget is a load of bollocks. How much should we be spending on flood mitigation? What specific budget items would you cut to make up the difference between what we now spend and what you think we should spend? Give me details and then maybe I’ll believe that you’re not just dodging the question.

3. All that said, the single best thing we could do going forward to not make our flooding problem worse is to stop paving over the undeveloped land that currently serves as the best flood mitigation we’ll ever have. People have been saying for years that the Grand Parkway would be a disaster from a flooding perspective, but that didn’t stop the County from building a massive road in the middle of what used to be nowhere to serve the needs of people who didn’t live there yet. If we ever got serious about encouraging denser development and transportation solutions that support it, we’d have less mitigation to worry about having to pay for.

Posted in: Local politics.

Transgender rights are about more than bathrooms

There’s also drivers licenses.

TDL_Sample

A Texas appeals court ruled last week that a transgender man isn’t entitled to change the gender marker on his driver’s license from “female” to “male.”

However, LGBT legal experts say they don’t expect the decision from the 14th Court of Appeals, which covers the Houston area, to have much practical impact, since so few local judges typically grant gender-marker changes in the first place.

Katie Sprinkle, a Dallas attorney who handles identification and gender marker cases, said some Democratic judges in Bexar, Dallas and Travis counties allow trans people to correct gender markers on their driver’s licenses and birth certificates if they provide proper documentation, including letters from doctors and therapists. Sprinkle also said the 14th Court of Appeals’ decision may be “persuasive,” but is not “binding,” on other jurisdictions.

“I don’t see anything in it that I think is going to change the status quo, because the status quo in 95 percent of the state is, they don’t do it anyway,” Sprinkle said. “Worst-case scenario, it goes up to the Texas Supreme Court, and they just put the kibosh on everything. There are at least several hundred thousand Texans that that could seriously adversely affect.”

[…]

Sprinkle said despite the appeals court’s decision, the petitioner still could reapply for a gender-marker change in another county — an option he told the Observer he now plans to pursue.

According to the pro-LGBT Movement Advancement Project, Texas is one of 13 states with the most onerous requirements for gender-marker changes on driver’s licenses, and one of four states with unclear policies when it comes to birth certificates.

This is one of those times when I find myself saying “what exactly is the problem here?” I don’t understand why a judge would have an issue with granting this request. There’s no excuse in 2016 for being ignorant of transgender people and their needs. Judges who can’t or won’t keep up with social change need to get off the bench.

And speaking of judges, here’s another one to keep an eye on.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor has set a hearing for Friday on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s bid to block the Obama administration’s recent guidance that said public schools should allow trans students to use restrooms according to their gender identity.

Paxton’s office, on behalf of 13 states, has requested a nationwide preliminary injunction against the guidance outlined in a May “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the U.S. Education and Justice departments. The states allege the administration has overstepped its bounds by attempting to rewrite federal law to ban discrimination based on gender identity without congressional action.

“Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights,” Paxton’s office wrote in its initial complaint.

In response to Paxton’s complaint, the Obama administration has argued that the guidance isn’t legally binding, and questioned whether Texas has standing to challenge it, given that the case doesn’t involve a specific controversy over restroom access for trans students in the Lone Star State.

“Indeed, plaintiffs have identified no enforcement action threatened or taken against them as a result of defendants’ interpretations,” the federal government wrote. “Instead, they have alleged no more than an abstract disagreement with the agencies’ interpretation of the law.”

That’s Friday as in today. This is the second time that a Texas judge could have a national effect in a high-profile case. I’m hoping for a better outcome than the first time.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Grimes County takes its own steps against Texas Central

Another day, another obstacle.

In a rebuke of a private firm’s plans to build a bullet train between Houston and Dallas, local officials in rural southeastern Texas moved Tuesday to restrict high-speed rail development in their corner of the state.

Grimes County commissioners voted unanimously to require high-speed rail developers to acquire a permit and provide sufficient proof of eminent domain authority before building a rail line over county roads, according to Ben Leman, the Grimes County judge.

[…]

On Tuesday, Texas Central released statements repeating that argument and affirming that “this high-speed rail project will continue, working closely with local governments to make this project a success for each community it will serve.”

“Texas statutes, as interpreted by courts and not county governments, have long granted eminent domain authority to railroads such as Texas Central, pipeline companies, electric power companies and other industries that provide the infrastructure necessary to serve the public efficiently and enjoy a healthy economy,” the company said in a statement.

The statement also criticized the Grimes Commissioners Court decision as “another delaying tactic.”

Leman, who previously filed a petition in opposition to the project, remains skeptical. The local measure will “clarify if they have eminent domain or not,” he said. “They claim to have it, or they publicly say they have it, but they’ve never demonstrated any proof of it in any court or any other entity.”

On the one hand, I understand why rural counties like Grimes hate this project. The trains will just pass through, they’re not getting any benefit from it, and they have no reason to trust any assurances that Texas Central will use eminent domain as little as possible. On the other hand, I want to scream “Will we ever be able to do anything other than build roads in this state?” in frustration. I see this project as being beneficial and necessary for the state, and it will only get more expensive to build the longer we wait. I know, it’s easy for me to say when someone else is being asked to take one for the team, but what do you want from my life?

Anyway. Either Texas Central will survive the various challenges to its ability to use eminent domain or it won’t. In either outcome, Grimes County’s actions here likely won’t matter. It’s just another step in the process.

UPDATE: Here’s a statement from TCR in response to this action, which disputes my claim that Grimes County will not see benefit from the project; they have also published this one-page overview of what Grimes County will get out of the railroad. Finally, here’s their statement on eminent domain.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Heights alcohol rule change petitions verified

The item will be on the ballot, pending Council approval.

beer

City Secretary Anna Russell confirmed that the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition gathered 1,759 valid signatures for its petition submitted last month, 248 more than required by law.

The Houston City Council is now slated Wednesday to formally call the election for Nov. 8, as required by state law.

The ban predates Prohibition. It first went into effect in 1912 and was kept in place when the Heights was annexed into Houston in 1918.

If the ban is lifted, residents would be allowed to buy alcohol at grocery and convenience stores. The change would not affect alcohol sales at restaurants.

See here, here, and here for some background, and here for my interview with Steve Reilley, who led the petition effort for the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition. I should note that the petitions specified “off-premise beer and wine sales”, so hard liquor would still not be available for purchase within this zone. As is always the case with dry areas, there are two liquor stores right outside the zone – they’ve been there for as long as I can remember – so no big deal.

The ballot proposition has now been approved by City Council, so it will officially be there. Only people who live in the historic dry area will have this item on their ballot, so administering it ought to be interesting. There is definitely some opposition to this, and as it is an affluent area I expect a fair amount of money to be spent by both sides between now and November. I consider the change effort to be the favorite to win, but anything can happen. The Press has more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Voter ID changes approved

We’re all set.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas’ voter ID law, cast as the strictest in the nation, will be substantially watered down during November’s election after a federal judge Wednesday approved a deal that allows those lacking required identification to cast a ballot by signing an affidavit.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos agreed to terms worked out between Texas and several minority groups, which requires the state to spend $2.5 million on a voter education campaign. Ramos also ordered that Texas allow the groups suing have input on the state’s outreach efforts.

[…]

Under the approved deal, acceptable identifications were expanded to include voter registration cards, birth certificates, utility bills, paycheck stubs and government documents with the voter’s name and address.

Along with one of the alternate IDs, voters will also have to sign an affidavit and check a box saying why they were unable to obtain one of the identifications required under the law. The deal also provides safeguards to prevent poll workers and election officials from questioning Texans lacking identification at the ballot box.

Democrats said the Republican-controlled Legislature could have provided protections for voters lacking necessary identification to still be allowed to cast ballots but opted instead to pass a bill that has been mired in litigation for years.

“This fix will provide welcome relief to the 600,000 Texas voters who have been disenfranchised by the state’s discriminatory voter ID law,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat and the chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we need not have waited three years or spent millions of taxpayer dollars to get to this point.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the full statement from MALC. The item about the plaintiffs having a say on how the outreach efforts go is a win as well, since they were skeptical about it to begin with.

Lawyers for Texas have disclosed that Burson-Marsteller, a public relations giant and global strategic communications firm with an Austin office, is under contract with the state to develop voter outreach efforts for the current year.

That includes a roughly $2.5 million plan Texas agreed to put in place after a federal appeals court last month found its voter ID measure discriminates against minorities.

Burson-Marsteller is no stranger to helping Texas with voter education plans, contracting with the state as far back as 2006. But Texas’ outreach efforts focused on the controversial photo ID law have been cast as lackluster by minority groups and federal courts, including a plan designed for the 2014 elections by Burson-Marsteller in which the state spent $2 million on an education campaign.

In a court filing last week, Texas said Burson-Marsteller and a subcontractor, Austin-based TKO Advertising, have already consulted with the state to design a “multi-faceted strategy to reach and educate voters” about changes to the voter ID law for the upcoming election. Texas says that plan is ready to be executed.

However, lawyers suing the state said they remain concerned about Texas’ willingness to reach out to voters and to train poll workers — and Burson-Marsteller’s involvement doesn’t help that perception.

“It gives us less confidence,” said Jose Garza, a lawyer for the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case. “The state’s historical track record is not a very good one on this issue.”

As that second story notes, the oversight item was one on which the two sides did not agree. It’s not hard to understand why the plaintiffs had their doubts, given the association with previous “outreach” efforts. I’m hopeful this will ensure things go as smoothly as can be expected.

That said, this still isn’t over.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a staunch supporter of the voter ID law, signaled that he won’t give up the case any time soon. The legal battle over what is said to be the nation’s strictest voter ID law has already cost state taxpayers more than $3.5 million.

“This case is not over,” Paxton’s spokesman, Marc Rylander, said in a statement. “Given the time constraints of the November elections and the direction of the Fifth Circuit, today’s order by the district court is an interim remedy that preserves the crucial aspects of the Voter ID law for this November election, while we continue evaluating all options moving forward, including an appeal of the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Seems highly unlikely to me that there are five votes on SCOTUS to overturn the Fifth Circuit decision, but as we know it’s not the winning or losing that motivates Paxton, it’s the rallying of the troops. A glorious defeat works just fine for his purposes. The Lege will take another crack at this next year, though it remains to be seen what that might amount to. I feel pretty confident saying what we have now is what we’ll have in November. Beyond that, we’ll see. The Texas Civil Rights Project has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Where are the chiefs?

People are beginning to wonder.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Six months after Houston’s top cop retired and 10 months after Houston’s fire chief resigned to take another job, both departments remain without permanent chiefs, prompting concerns that public safety could suffer during the transition to permanent leadership.

The delays are already among the longest in decades at a time when community pressures are mounting on local agencies.

“We need leadership right now, and no one wants to make any moves until a chief is named,” one longtime police investigator complained recently.

Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo, a Houston Police Department veteran, has led the agency since Mayor Sylvester Turner named her to the interim post in mid-February. Acting Fire Chief Rodney West has been at the helm since before Turner took office in January.

Both Montalvo and West are reportedly interested in the positions.

City officials say the administration has been occupied with passing the city’s budget, dealing with historic flooding and responding to the high-profile murder of an 11-year-old boy in north Houston earlier this year and the recent, controversial shooting by police of an African-American man in south Houston.

“My preference would be to have permanent leadership for the departments to depend on and move forward with,” said Council Member Brenda Stardig, chair of the City Council’s public safety committee. “We have to prioritize and take care of the citizens and public safety.”

Turner’s office has remained tight-lipped about the searches.

“Nothing has changed. The mayor is working on his timetable,” city spokeswoman Janice Evans said in an email. “In the meantime, both HPD and HFD are operating well. Both Chief Montalvo and Chief West meet regularly with the mayor so that he is aware of what is going on in the departments. His concern is about getting the job done rather than the personalities of who is making sure the job gets done.”

The story goes on to note that while Mayor Turner is taking longer to name HPD and HFD chiefs than what we are used to, it’s not out of line for similar appointments in other big cities. I can’t speak to how any of this affects the internal dynamics of either organization, but at least for HPD there are some big issues involving things like recent shootings of civilians and how body cameras are being used for which it would be nice to get some clear direction. It’s better to be right slow than to be wrong fast, so as long as Mayor Turner gets the right people in place in not too much longer, all should be fine. The Mayor clearly isn’t going to be rushed, so we may as well wait till he’s ready to make his choices.

Posted in: Local politics.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 8

The Texas Progressive Alliance is feeling the Olympic spirit as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

State Bar dismisses other complaint against Paxton

No matter what else happens, our ethically challenged Attorney General can say he beat at least one rap against him.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton telling county clerks they do not have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is not a sign of “professional misconduct,” according to the State Bar of Texas.

The organization last week dismissed a complaint filed against the embattled top prosecutor by more than 200 Texas attorneys, who argued that he “violated his own official oath of office” by issuing a written opinion stating that clerks and public officials could ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

In an Aug. 3 notice obtained by The Texas Tribune, the State Bar said, “The Chief Disciplinary Counsel has determined that there is no just cause to believe that [Paxton] has committed professional misconduct.”

[…]

Steve Fischer, a former director of the State Bar of Texas and one of the attorneys who filed the complaint, said that while he didn’t get the result he wanted, there is “no further interest to continue the grievance.”

“We sort of made our point that he can’t tell clerks to disobey a Supreme Court’s ruling,” he said. “It’s the law of the land. He’s entitled to his own personal opinion, but he should draw a line.”

See here for the background. This may not have risen to the level of misconduct, but it was hardly exemplary conduct either, especially from the Attorney General. I don’t think a mild slap on the wrist of some kind would have been out of place, but whatever. Everyone who wants to get married in Texas can do so, and the matter hardly raises any eyebrow any more. Whatever happened with this complaint, Paxton lost the real fight, with barely a whimper. I’ll take that.

Meanwhile, in other Paxton-trouble news, the special prosecutors have filed their response to his petition to the Court of Criminal Appeals to have the felony charges against him dismissed.

Defense lawyers raised issues that cannot be appealed before trial or were correctly decided when the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals upheld criminal charges accusing Paxton of securities fraud and failing to register with state securities regulators, prosecutors told the Court of Criminal Appeals.

“The Court of Criminal Appeals grants less than 4 percent of all petitions for discretionary review filed by criminal defendants. Our reply makes it clear that Mr. Paxton’s petition is not one of them,” prosecutor Brian Wice said.

The prosecutors also argued that Paxton, who filed his appeal Aug. 1, waited too long to challenge the two felony fraud charges, requiring that portion of his appeal to be automatically dismissed.

You can see the state’s reply here. They rebutted each of the defense’s specific claims in addition to asserting that the defense filing was too late, but the legalese was too thick for me to make it all the way through without my eyes glazing over. Suffice it to say, the prosecution begged to differ.

And finally, Paxton is asking the SEC for more time in his fraud case on their docket.

Contemplating an aggressive round of depositions, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked for an additional 3½ months to question potential witnesses about allegations that Paxton defrauded investors in private business deals five years ago.

The additional time, if granted by U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant III, would delay until at least September 2017 a civil trial on fraud allegations made by federal regulators.

In a recent court filing, Paxton’s lawyers told the judge they will need more time to question as many as 46 potential witnesses, including state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, and his wife, Kay.

[…]

Another reason to grant a delay, lawyers told Mazzant, is that Paxton could face a criminal trial as early as spring 2017 on state felony fraud charges related to his actions on behalf of Servergy.

“Mr. Paxton respectfully submits that, as a matter of fairness, the trial of his criminal matter should occur prior to the trial of this matter,” his lawyers said.

Paxton’s lawyers also informed Mazzant that they are not interested in reaching an out-of-court settlement with the SEC. Neither side has requested or made a settlement offer, they added.

SEC lawyers told Mazzant they expect to finish their depositions — which would include questioning Paxton and his wife, Angela — by Feb. 6. Paxton’s lawyers pressed for a May 26 deadline on depositions.

See here and here for the background. Paxton has also filed a motion to dismiss the SEC charges against him, which still awaits the judge’s ruling. You have to admit, defending himself from a myriad of charges relating to his bad behavior is a full-time job, so Paxton has a compelling case for delay here. We’ll see if the judge grants it.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Did Steve Radack really say that?

Apparently so.

Commissioner Steve Radack

Commissioner Steve Radack

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack recently said some people want to get flooded so they can cash in, and he’s not backing down from his comments.

Radack says this was one minute of a 90-minute community meeting in Cypress last Thursday night. However, to the audience of flood victims, it didn’t go over well.

[…]

“Frankly, over the years, and the many years I’ve been doing this… they frankly enjoy floods. They’d like to see a flood about every 7 years, because they want new cars, they want their homes redone,” Radack said at the meeting.

“I know flooding is tragic, I’ve dealt with it for more than two decades,” he told KHOU 11 News when he sat down for an interview.

Radack says he was talking about fraud and telling the truth.

“There are people who take advantage of FEMA money and then there are people who tragically need the FEMA money, but they don’t have the insurance,” Radack said.

“That’s not the way it is for most people,” said Cynthia Neely, who is a board member with Residents Against Flooding.

She recorded the video at the meeting.

“A leader should not talk like that to people who are hurting,” Neely said.

There’s video at the link above and at Click2Houston, where Radack made a similar defense of his remarks. I’ve not watched the video, so I can’t say if the full context changes the way that sounded. I’ve no doubt there are people who defraud their insurance and government agencies like FEMA, but to imply that a significant portion of the population looks forward to the opportunity to commit fraud seems more than a little excessive. Maybe cite a number or two to back up your assertion and not give them impression that you’re just pulling this out from your nether regions. If he doesn’t have some facts and figures at hand – again, I haven’t watched the video, so maybe he does have them – then he deserves the heat he’s getting. To answer the question that was posted along with this story on my Facebook page, yes he is up for election this November. Radack faces Jenifer Pool in what ought to be an easy win for him; he certainly has the overwhelming financial advantage. Perhaps this will make it a bit harder.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

RIP, Lone Star Rail

This really does appear to be the end of the line.

On a 17-1 vote late Monday, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board decided to kick off a two-month process to remove from its official 25-year transportation plan the proposed 117-mile rail line from San Antonio to Georgetown. A final vote will have to be taken in October, but the tenor of the discussion and the lopsided vote made it clear that Lone Star will soon be history.

San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero voted no. Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea and TxDOT Austin district engineer Terry McCoy abstained.

“We are going to look for real solutions up and down (the Interstate 35) corridor and stop living in a fantasy land,” said Hays County Commissioner Will Conley, who chairs the CAMPO board and carried the motion to oust Lone Star from the transportation plan.

In the intervening 60 days, at Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s request, TxDOT and local officials will take one last stab at trying to get Union Pacific — whose rail line runs through the heart of the Austin-San Antonio corridor — to come back to the negotiating table. For its entire history, Lone Star’s focus has been on using the UP line for its commuter service.

[…]

The resolution approved Monday also asks TxDOT to direct Lone Star to stop spending money on an $8 million environmental impact study of the line. If that occurs, Lone Star — which after $30 million of spending produced various engineering and financial studies but yielded no real progress toward funding the line — would be out of business.

It will almost certainly occur, a TxDOT official said Monday evening before the vote.

“If they (the CAMPO board) make that local decision to remove the rail line from the plan, we will sit down with the Federal Highway Administration and Lone Star and figure out how to conclude the environmental process,” said Mark Williams, TxDOT’s deputy executive director. “Which, in effect, would mean a ‘no build’ conclusion.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Lone Star Rail had worked all along to get Union Pacific to agree to share its freight tracks for its proposed commuter rail line, and when UP finally said No, there was no plan B. It’s a shame it’s come to this, because the idea of commuter rail between Austin and San Antonio has a lot of merit, but in the end Lone Star Rail could not get it done. There’s always the hyperloop plan, so keep hope alive. CAMPO member Cynthia Long and the San Antonio BizJournal have more.

UPDATE:: The Current offers a small bit of dissent.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.