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Precinct analysis: Ogg v Anderson

Kim Ogg had the second highest vote total in Harris County this year. Let’s see how that looked at a more granular level.


Dist  Anderson      Ogg  Anderson%    Ogg%
==========================================
CD02   156,027  117,810     56.98%  43.02%
CD07   135,065  118,837     53.20%  46.80%
CD09    26,881  106,334     20.18%  79.82%
CD10    78,602   38,896     66.90%  33.10%
CD18    47,408  154,503     23.48%  76.52%
CD29    36,581   93,437     28.14%  71.86%
				
SBOE6  328,802  277,271     54.25%  45.75%
				
HD126   34,499   26,495     56.56%  43.44%
HD127   46,819   26,260     64.07%  35.93%
HD128   39,995   18,730     68.11%  31.89%
HD129   40,707   27,844     59.38%  40.62%
HD130   57,073   23,239     71.06%  28.94%
HD131    7,301   38,651     15.89%  84.11%
HD132   36,674   31,478     53.81%  46.19%
HD133   46,242   29,195     61.30%  38.70%
HD134   43,962   45,142     49.34%  50.66%
HD135   31,190   28,312     52.42%  47.58%
HD137    8,728   18,040     32.61%  67.39%
HD138   26,576   24,189     52.35%  47.65%
HD139   12,379   39,537     23.84%  76.16%
HD140    6,613   20,621     24.28%  75.72%
HD141    5,305   32,677     13.97%  86.03%
HD142   10,428   34,242     23.34%  76.66%
HD143    9,100   23,434     27.97%  72.03%
HD144   10,758   16,100     40.06%  59.94%
HD145   11,145   22,949     32.69%  67.31%
HD146   10,090   38,147     20.92%  79.08%
HD147   12,156   45,221     21.19%  78.81%
HD148   17,538   29,848     37.01%  62.99%
HD149   15,352   27,535     35.80%  64.20%
HD150   47,268   28,160     62.67%  37.33%
				
CC1     73,521  240,194     23.44%  76.56%
CC2    123,178  126,996     49.24%  50.76%
CC3    187,095  164,487     53.22%  46.78%
CC4    204,103  164,355     55.39%  44.61%
Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Ogg received 696,955 votes, which is about 11K fewer than Hillary Clinton, while Anderson drew 588,464 votes, or 42.5K more than Donald Trump. I believe the differences can be accounted for as Ogg not getting as many crossovers as Clinton, while Anderson picked up most of the Gary Johnson supporters. Compare the results from the Presidential race and the judicial races to get a feel for this. In particular, compare the Presidential numbers in HD134 to the same numbers above. Ogg got 4,765 fewer votes than Clinton in the district. Add to that the 4,044 Johnson votes for a total of 8,809, and then observe that Anderson did 8,131 votes better than Trump did. Not exact, but pretty close. There are some fudge factors as well – some of those Johnson voters were straight party Libertarian, Ogg may have received some Jill Stein votes, etc. It’s good enough for a back-of-the-envelope approximation, is what I’m saying.

Outside of HD134, Ogg consistently did about two points better across the county, with slightly bigger gains in more Republican districts. Basically, Ogg is to 2016 what Adrian Garcia was to 2008. Garcia maintained his status as Democratic pacesetter in 2012, and I think Ogg will have the chance to do that in 2020 if she does a good job and accomplishes the goals she has laid out. We have seen plenty of examples of county officials and candidates for county office drawing bipartisan support, on both sides. We’ve also seen examples of failed incumbents getting turned out in emphatic fashion. Good performance is good politics in these elections.

I’ll look at the other countywide races in the coming days. Are there any particular questions you’d like me to explore with this data? Let me know.

Posted in: Election 2016.

“Fetal remains” rule goes into effect

Cue up that next lawsuit.

Texas’ proposed rules requiring the cremation or burial of fetal remains will take effect Dec. 19, according to state health officials.

Despite intense outcry from the medical community and reproductive rights advocates, the state will prohibit hospitals, abortion clinics and other health care facilities from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, instead allowing only cremation or interment of all remains — regardless of the period of gestation.

[…]

Proposed at the direction of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, the health commission had argued the rules would result in “enhanced protection of the health and safety of the public.” Abbott said in a fundraising email that the rules were proposed because he doesn’t believe fetal remains should be “treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills.”

But the new requirement prompted outrage from the reproductive rights community, which accused state leaders of pushing unnecessary regulations. Women who experienced miscarriages or lost children in utero questioned why the state would make their situations more difficult by enacting the requirements. And medical providers — including the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association — had also raised concerns about who would bear the costs associated with cremation or burial — a figure that can reach several thousand dollars in each case.

In response to those concerns, health officials indicated that health care facilities — and not patients — will be responsible for the disposal of fetal remains and related costs. They also wrote that those costs would be “offset by the elimination of some current methods of disposition.”

See here, here, and here for the background. If you think it’s a coincidence that this was proposed within a few weeks of the SCOTUS ruling striking down HB2, I’ve got a carload of diplomas from Trump University to sell you. Let’s get that next lawsuit going so we can maybe have an injunction in place before this atrocity can take effect. (And if you want to help facilitate that, a donation to the Center for Reproductive Rights would be a fine way to do so.) The Austin Chronicle has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Dropping out of Electoral College

I have some respect for this.

A Texas Republican elector is resigning over the election of Donald Trump, saying he cannot “in good conscience” vote for the incoming president.

The elector, Art Sisneros of Dayton, detailed his decision in a blog post Saturday that said he believed voting for Trump “would bring dishonor to God.” The remaining 537 members of the Electoral College will choose Sisneros’ replacement when they convene Dec. 19 in state capitals across the country.

[…]

Sisneros has previously been critical of Trump, raising the prospect that he could turn into a “faithless elector” — one who votes against the winner of the popular vote in his or her state. He ruled out that option in his blog post, writing that it “would be difficult to justify how being faithless could be a righteous act.”

The post in question is here, and it’s rather wordy but worth a read. Basically, Sisneros felt constrained because the Texas GOP requires people who want to become electors to sign a pledge affirming that they will only vote for the candidate who won the vote in the state, which if you want to get all original-constructionist is a perversion of the intent of the Electoral College. He admits he shouldn’t have signed the pledge (and thus not been chosen as an elector), but sign it he did, and thus was faced with voting for a candidate he couldn’t abide, being a “faithless elector” (a term he says he despises), or resigning. His reasoning comes from a place that I don’t share, but given his starting point, I do agree that this was the honorable path for him to take. Not that any of this matters in the grand scheme of things, nor does it address the underlying tension of the huge disparity between the popular vote and the electoral vote, but there you have it.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Precinct analysis: District courts

Today we will look at the Harris County-specific judicial races, by which I mean the district courts plus two County Court benches. I’m going to begin with something a little different, which is a look at the distribution of how many votes each candidate received. We know that most people know little to nothing about most judicial candidates, yet there’s a surprising range of outcomes even in a year like this where one party swept all the elections. Is there anything we can glean from that? Let’s take a look.


Bench    Democrat    Votes  Bench   Republican    Votes
=======================================================
178th   K Johnson  684,467  165th   Mayfield *  621,070
151st Engelhart *  681,602  CC#16     Garcia *  620,356
152nd  Schaffer *  680,521  337th      Magee *  620,322
129th     Gomez *  677,144  61st   Lunceford *  619,823
127th   Sandill *  673,122  179th     Guiney *  619,027
80th     Weiman *  672,840  176th       Bond *  617,013
125th    Carter *  670,653  177th    Patrick *  615,513
164th   S-Hogan *  670,438  351st      Ellis *  613,151
339th   Jackson *  664,205  333rd    Halbach *  610,904
507th   Maldonado  663,465  338th     Thomas *  610,756
133rd McFarland *  661,240  CC#1    Leuchtag *  607,896
174th     Jones    660,685  334th    Dorfman *  606,184
11th      Hawkins  665,619  174th     McDaniel  605,912
215th    Palmer *  663,604  133rd        Smith  605,601
334th    Kirkland  658,759  11th        Fulton  604,450
CC#1    Barnstone  656,755  507th    Lemkuil *  601,461
333rd       Moore  654,602  339th      McFaden  600,896
338th    Franklin  653,880  215th     Shuchart  600,874
351st      Powell  650,948  125th     Hemphill  598,956
177th   R Johnson  650,703  80th        Archer  597,157
61st     Phillips  650,248  164th         Bail  596,556
176th      Harmon  648,830  127th      Swanson  594,224
CC#16      Jordan  647,122  129th      Mafrige  591,350
165th        Hall  646,314  151st     Hastings  586,609
179th        Roll  645,103  152nd         Self  586,199
337th     Ritchie  643,639  178th      Gommels  580,653

HarrisCounty

Asterisks represent incumbents. Three benches – the 11th (Civil), the 174th and 178th (both Criminal) – are held by incumbents (all Democrats) who chose not to run for another term. The first thing we can tell from this is that incumbents did the best overall. Maybe that’s a name recognition thing, maybe that’s the effect of the legal community crossing party lines to support the judges they know, maybe it’s a random one year phenomenon. Interestingly, all but one Democratic incumbent (Terri Jackson in the 339th) is a Civil Court judge, while the Republicans are on Civil (Mayfield, Lunceford, Halbach, Leuchtag, Dorfman), Criminal (Garcia, Magee, Guiney, Bond, Patrick, Ellis), and Family (Lemkuil) benches. Maybe that means something, and maybe it’s just random.

The top votegetters for each party did about 40K votes better than the bottom. Because there’s an inverse relationship, this means that the margins of victory were very divergent. Herb Ritchie won by 23,317 votes. Kelli Johnson won by 103,786. I have no clear idea why Johnson, running for an open Criminal bench, was the top performer overall, but she was. Speaking as a Democrat, hers was far from the most visible campaign to me. Most of the incumbents were pretty busy with email and social media, with a few doing other things like billboards (Engelhart) and cable TV ads (Sandill). Among the non-incumbents, I’d say Kristin Hawkins and Steven Kirkland were the ones I heard from the most, followed by Hazel Jones and Julia Maldonado.

It’s become a tradition – since 2008, anyway, when Democrats in Harris County first broke through – for their to be calls to Do Something about judicial races after an election. In particular, the call is to Do Something about the effect of straight ticket voting on judicial elections. This year was no exception, though in the past this call has gone unheeded since stakeholders on both sides recognize the pros and cons from their perspective. In Harris County, there were about 71K more Democratic straight ticket votes than there were Republican straight ticket votes, which among other things means that every Democrat from Alex Smoots-Hogan up would have won their race even if we threw out all of the straight party votes. Of course, the people who voted straight ticket did vote, and it’s more than a little presumptuous to think that they would have either skipped the judicial races or done a significant amount of ticket-splitting had they not had that option. They just would have had to spend more time voting, which would have meant longer lines and/or necessitated more voting machines. Somehow, that never seems to be part of the conversation.

Of course, part of this is just another way to complain about the fact that we elect judges via partisan contests. We’ve discussed that plenty of times and I’m not going to get into it here. I’ll just say this: While one may not be able to draw conclusions about how a random person may have voted in the Presidential race this year, it’s highly likely that the Republican judicial candidates this year had previously voted for Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, Sid Miller, and Ted Cruz, while the Democratic candidates would not have done so. If someone wants to base their vote in these races on how the candidates likely voted in those races, I don’t see why that should be a problem. People are going to vote based on the information they have.

Anyway. Let’s take a look at some districts. Here I’m going to go with the average vote totals for each party’s candidates in the districts that I want to highlight.


Dist    R CJ Avg  D CJ Avg  R CJ Pct  D CJ Pct
==============================================
CD02    162,006    108,132    59.97%    40.03%
CD07    140,809    108,532    56.47%    43.53%

SBOE6   341,855    254,815    57.29%    42.71%

HD126    35,612     24,770    58.98%    41.02%
HD132    37,744     29,907    55.79%    44.21%
HD134    46,749     39,776    54.03%    45.97%
HD135    32,189     26,673    54.69%    45.31%
HD137     8,995     17,430    34.04%    65.96%
HD138    27,529     22,527    55.00%    45.00%
HD144    10,981     15,673    41.20%    58.80%
HD148    18,532     27,741    40.05%    59.95%
HD149    15,724     26,816    36.96%    63.04%

CC1      75,017    234,844    24.21%    75.79%
CC2     126,175    120,814    51.09%    48.91%
CC3     193,936    152,622    55.96%    44.04%
CC4     210,878    153,004    57.95%    42.05%

One point of difference between the district/county court races and the state court races is that these are all straight R-versus-D contests. There were no third-party candidates in any of these matchups. As such, I consider this a better proxy for partisan strength in a given district.

There are four Congressional districts that are entirely contained within Harris County. The Democratic districts are far bluer than the Republican districts are red. These districts are fairly solid for the GOP now, but they’re going to need some bolstering in the 2021 reapportioning to stay that way. It’s not crazy to think that one or both of them may include non-Harris County turf in the next redrawing.

As for the State Rep districts, I will first call your attention to the HD134 numbers, which you may note are just a little different than the Presidential numbers. Are we clear on what I meant by crossover votes? This is why we need to be very careful about using Presidential numbers to evaluate future electoral opportunities. I’d love to believe that HD134 is more Democratic than before, but the evidence just isn’t there.

Against that, I hope the HCDP is beating the bushes now looking for people to run in HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126, in that order. All of them need to be thought of as two-cycle efforts, to account for differing conditions, the slow pace of demographic change, and the fact that these are still steep challenges. There are only so many viable non-judicial targets in 2018 for Democrats, and these four districts should be prioritized.

I ask again: Is it time to stop thinking of HD144 as a swing district? Given that it went Republican in 2014, I suppose the answer has to be No, at least until Rep.-elect-again Mary Ann Perez can demonstrate that she can hold it in 2018. But note that HD144 is a lot more Democratic than before. The Democratic judicial average is six points higher than the top statewide candidates from 2012, and eight points above what President Obama got there in 2012. It’s higher than what Adrian Garcia got. Heck, Perez outdid herself by eight points from 2012. I’m sure Donald Trump had something to do with this, but that’s still a big shift. In 2016, HD144 was nearly as Democratic as HD148 was. Let’s keep that in mind going forward.

There’s a universe in which all four Harris County Commissioners are Democrats. There are more than enough excess Democratic votes in Precinct 1 to tip the other three, if we wanted to draw such a map. Said map would certainly violate the Voting Rights Act, and I am in no way advocating that. I’m just engaging in a little thought experiment, and pushing back in a small way at the notion that the division we have now is How It Should Be. The more tangible way to do that would be to win Precinct 2 in 2018. I’m not going to say that will be easy, but I will say that it’s doable. Like those State Rep districts, it needs to be a priority.

I’ll have a look at the other countywide elections next. As always, let me know what you think.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Two more lawsuit updates

The ban on the transgender bathroom rule remains in place pending appeals.

RedEquality

Continued lack of access in public schools to bathrooms matching transgender persons’ gender identity won’t cause them irreparable harm, a Texas federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Reed O’Connor of Wichita Falls, Texas, made that finding Sunday in ruling against two federal executive branch departments.

O’Connor concluded the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education had failed to show they will suffer irreparable injury if he allows to continue his nationwide ban on their policy for allowing transgender people in public schools access to the bathrooms assigned to the gender with which they self-identify.

The federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “sex”—the scope and meaning of which the federal government agencies claim now includes gender identity—were promulgated nearly 40 years ago, O’Connor wrote.

He referred specifically to the time gap between the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and May this year when the federal agencies announced their new transgender bathroom guidelines for public schools. “[T]he Court views this delay as strong evidence that Defendants will suffer no irreparable injury if a stay is denied and enforcement of the [federal agencies’] guidelines delayed until their legality is established,” O’Connor wrote.

See here for the background. I’m sure no one suffered any injury at all during the time between the passage of Title IX and the much more recent recognition of transgender people as actual human beings.

The litigation over the Obama Administration executive order on immigration will be on hold until next year.

The first major litigation effect of the election of Donald Trump took place in a Texas federal district court Friday when the lawyers in the case against the Obama administration’s plan to delay deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants asked the judge to postpone proceedings until Feb. 20.

“Given the change in administration, the parties jointly submit that a brief stay of any further litigation … would serve judicial efficiency and economy so that the parties have a better understanding of how they might choose to move forward,” U.S. Justice Department lawyers wrote in the filing.

[…]

The injunction will remain in place if the judge grants the motion to stay the proceedings. President-elect Trump would have the option of ending the litigation after his inauguration by withdrawing the guidance that authorized the deportation delays.

SCOTUS had declined to intervene in the appeal of the original ruling that halted this order nationwide, so here we are. Both of these cases involve non-legislative action – an executive order in this case, and an updated administrative guideline from the Department of Education in the other – and so in some sense the litigation doesn’t matter, since both of those actions can and almost certainly will be reversed by the next President. I would imagine that once that happens, the Attorneys General who filed these suits will withdraw them. Such will be life for the next four years.

Posted in: Legal matters.

We’re going to be fighting about vaccinations for a while

I wish it weren’t so, but it is.

Texas is one of 18 states that allow non-medical exemptions to the vaccines required for school attendance. California had a similar law allowing non-medical exemptions, until last year when it enacted a law that has one of the strictest requirements in the country after a 2014 outbreak of measles traced to the Disneyland theme park infected more than 100 people around the country.

Many of the parents opting out of the immunizations, which are widely recommended by doctors, say they fear a link between the vaccines and health problems such as autism. But studies that they cite have been widely debunked by public health officials.

“Year after year we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of students with a conscientious exemption from vaccination in Texas,” said Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “But overall, the numbers are small.”

Even though statewide levels of vaccinations remain high, at over 98 percent, what concerns public health officials are the growing clusters of geographic areas with high rates of unvaccinated children. Texas went from just 2,314 “conscientious exemptions” in 2003 to 44,716 this year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Some parents are pressing state officials to let them know how many of their children’s peers are unvaccinated. Jinny Suh, who has a 4-year-old son, is helping spearhead a petition drive asking legislators to change state law so that the number of school exemptions is public. Currently, exemption rates are available for individual private and charter schools, but only district-wide for public schools.

State Rep. César Blanco, a Democrat from El Paso, introduced a bill during the last legislative session that would have required schools to notify parents about vaccination rates at the school level, but the bill was stalled in committee.

“As a parent, there are lots of things that people get very passionate about,” Suh said, “but for some reason, in my experience, vaccinations remains an almost taboo topic besides a few passionate people.”

Yes, the anti-vaxxers are a minority, but they are a vocal and organized minority, which is a recipe for political success. Unfortunately, the end result of that political success is a growing public health problem, which is compounded by a lack of leadership in our state government. Honestly, what we need here is for an organized pushback against the anti-vaxxers, a pro-vaccine Moms Demand Action kind of thing. The main difference here isn’t that there is an anti-vaccination legislative faction that needs to be countered. I doubt there are that many legislators who are truly anti-vaccination, though there are a decent number who are in favor of “conscience” objections to some extent. It’s more that there isn’t a vocal and active pro-vaccination legislative force that can advance the cause and/or defend against attempts to weaken vaccination requirements. People who want to see more kids get vaccinated and fewer kids get exempted from vaccinations need to elect a few of their own. Until that happens, we’re going to see more stories like this one.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math, That's our Lege.

Weekend link dump for November 27

What Larry Summers says.

From August but worth reading if you haven’t already: Why Twitter has such a problem with harassment and abuse, and has never figured out how to mitigate it.

Homer Simpson Is Now the Subject of a College Philosophy Course.

“Politicians do not deserve respect simply on the basis of the fact that they’re politicians. They do, however, deserve to be treated in accordance with their actions.”

How to encrypt your entire life in less than an hour.

“This is a problem that not even a blind trust can solve. Creating blanket conflict-of-interest laws would hamstring the presidency, but the current laws about emoluments are clearly inadequate.”

If you favor marijuana legalization, or even decriminalization, you shouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote over President-elect Donald Trump keeps growing and currently stands at 1.677 million votes.” Just, you know, FYI.

NFL teams should go for two a lot more often.

“We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country.”

If this doesn’t make you ill, there’s something wrong with you.

“This is so obvious, so clear right in front of our faces, that it seems hard to see. These aren’t conflicts of interest. The construct doesn’t work for what we’re dealign with. There is no conflict. Everything is working as planned. He’s leveraging the office like one might leverage a business. When you have your hotel pitch foreign diplomatic delegations on bringing their business to your hotel, that’s not a conflict. That’s a revenue stream tied to owning the presidency.”

“If this is right, the key qualities of presidential politics over the next four years will be instability, frequent policy change, palace intrigues, and Trump looking to reign triumphant above it all, not particularly caring (a la Padgett and Ansell’s Cosimo) about attaining specific goals, but instead looking to preserve his position at the center of an ever shifting spider web of political relations, no matter what consequences this has for the integrity of the web.”

5 Fun Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, because we could all use that right about now.

Lawyers of the Left, for those who may be interested.

A timeline of fake news on Facebook.

What makes protests work, and what makes them backfire and solidify opinion against the protesters? The answers to these questions, drawn from the research of scholars who have dedicated their careers to in-depth interviews with activists, protesters, and organizers, can both offer guidance to those spearheading the movement against Trump, and offer some interesting glimpses into the surprising political psychology of resistance.”

“Did 2016 represent the biggest gulf between the popular vote results and the electoral college verdict in history?”

“In stretching to paint Bannon as an old-fashioned racist, his critics overshot — and also missed the point. Bannon is more complicated, a whole new political beast. And because of that, he’s more dangerous than his adversaries in both the Democratic and Republican parties yet realize.”

RIP, Ralph Branca, former Dodgers pitcher who gave up Bobby Thomson’s famous home run.

“I love each and every one of you and I am so glad to have yet another holiday together. Come hungry and leave full. Hug one another because you can. Argue if you must, but then agree to disagree. Try something new or let go of something old. Give more. Take less. Oh hell. Listen to me rattle on like I am some sort of philosopher. Screw it. Come for the food and stay for the company. Everything else can be made better with gravy. I mean it. Really.”

RIP, Florence Henderson, most famous TV mom ever.

“What Lessig should have argued is that the Electors should plainly judge Trump a menacing incompetent and reject him with extreme prejudice.”

RIP, Ron Glass, actor best known for roles on Barney Miller and Firefly.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Texting while driving ban bills filed again

We’ll see if this gets a different result.

Drivers know the risks, and in more than 95 Texas counties they live under local cell phone ordinances that ban texting while driving. But the Lone Star State remains one of four states in the country without a statewide ban on the practice.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, hopes to change that with Senate Bill 31, which would make it illegal to text unless the vehicle is stopped. Lawmakers have shot down similar attempts by Zaffirini for four sessions in a row, but she hopes the fifth time’s a charm as lawmakers head back to Austin in January.

“All we can do is try,” she said. “It’s so important because more and more Texans have become aware about the danger that’s posed by texting while driving.”

Zaffirini’s legislation mirrors efforts by Rep. Tom Craddick, the Republican former House speaker from Midland, who filed anti-texting legislation in the last three legislative sessions. He filed his fourth attempt on the first day of bill filing last week. Once again, Zaffirini and Craddick are naming their legislation after Alex Brown, a West Texas high school student who was killed in a crash while texting and driving in 2009.

It will be an uphill climb, however. The legislation was approved by the House in 2015 and 2013but halted by the Senate. Zaffirini was just one senator short of passing the bill through the Senate in 2015. It passed both chambers in 2011, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

But that veto was unusual, Craddick said, because Perry was in the midst of his first presidential bid. Perry called the anti-texting bill “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”

Craddick is hopeful it won’t be vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott if it passes both chambers during the 85th Legislature. He said he’s also heard positive remarks made by Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in Midland.

“(Abbott) has been pretty positive to people that have talked to him about it. I feel like he’ll sign it,” Craddick said. “(Patrick) said he thought the Senate would pass it, too.”

That would be a shift from earlier remarks made by Abbott, who said he opposed the legislationin 2014 and would veto any texting while driving legislation that made it to his desk. After the legislation made it through the House in 2015, Abbott promised to give it the “deep consideration it deserves.”

[…]

AT&T, which has been a big supporter of Craddick’s legislation, released a study that found that the four states without a statewide ban “have a roughly 17 percent higher rate of texting while driving than the 46 states with statewide bans.”

Texas A&M University’s Transportation Institute released similar studies on the state impact of texting while driving. College Station, where the university is located, recently passed its own ordinance that banned the use of a wireless device while driving.

Alva Ferdinand, a faculty member at Texas A&M’s school of public health, led a 2015 study that found a seven percent reduction in crash-related hospitalization in states that have enacted texting while driving bans. An earlier study by Ferdinand found that texting bans led to a 3 percent reduction in traffic fatalities among all age groups.

See here for a bit of background. On the one hand, Craddick’s optimism aside, Abbott has previously expressed opposition to a statewide ban, and I can’t imagine this will be any kind of priority for leadership. On the other hand, this did make it to the Governor’s desk once, and passed the House two other times, so the support is there, and if it does get to Abbott’s desk he may not feel compelled to veto it. I wouldn’t bet on this passing, but it has a chance, and that’s more than you can say for most bills.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Texas settles another lawsuit against VW

Hard to keep track, I know.

Volkswagen will pay the state of Texas $50 million to settle a deceptive trade practices lawsuit brought against the automaker. The settlement is part of an $14.7 billion nationwide agreement to resolve the nation’s largest auto scandal.

Volkswagen mislead consumers by promoting diesel vehicles as “clean” even though the German manufacturer knew the cars were equipped with software to cheat on emissions tests, according to the attorney general’s office.

The carmaker sold nearly 43,000 vehicles in Texas with 2.0 liter and 3.0 liter diesel engines, according to the agreement. The affected VW, Audi and Porsche vehicles include model years 2009 through 2015, according to court documents.

Under the terms of the agreement, VW is prohibited from falsely claiming its vehicles are environmentally friendly, selling cars with devices that can trigger false readings on environmental tests and misrepresenting emission levels.

The carmaker must also establish a $2.7 billion trust fund for projects to lessen the environmental harm caused by excessive Volkswagen emissions. Texas’ share is estimated to be as much as $191 million, according to the attorney general’s office.

See here for some background, and here for the original AG press release on this lawsuit. The FTC also sued a few months after this. The earlier settlement that was announced had to do with the actual environmental damage, which is what the $191 million Texas will get is all about. I presume money from this settlement will go to the defrauded VW vehicle owners, but the details are a little fuzzy to me. I suppose if you were one of those people who bought a VW diesel car, you might contact the AG’s office to see if you’re owed a few bucks now. The Statesman has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Who wants to go to Mars?

I imagine that sounds like a pretty good option to a lot of people right about now.

Wealthy business leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are creating buzz around and making progress toward the exploration of deep space, experts said Wednesday during SpaceCom in downtown Houston.

“I think we’re entering an era of philanthropic private funding of grand visions in space that start with our own solar system and eventually lead to humanity going to the stars,” said Pete Worden, chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and former director of NASA Ames Research Center.

Worden and other panelists discussed going to Mars and beyond during their presentations at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Such exploration, Worden said, will require public-private partnerships between international businesses and governments.

His enthusiasm lies with exploring the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. To do this, Worden discussed the Breakthrough Starshot project. This involves small, ultra-light nanocraft – miniature space probes attached to lightweight sails – that will be pushed up to 100 million mph by a ground-based light beamer, according to the project’s website.

“I’m hoping sometime here later this century, maybe in 2076, hopefully sooner, we will fly by the nearest star,” Worden said.

Other panelists focused on human space flight to Mars. NASA wants to get people to Mars in the 2030s.

“Why send humans to Mars? It is the closest habitable planet,” said Brian Duffy, vice president and program manager at Orbital ATK. “And if the human race is ever going to be anywhere else in the universe, then Mars makes the most sense.”

2076 is a little out of my reach, and I’d be too old in the 2030s for it to be practical. But even if I’ll never get to do it I support space travel, and often I think it will be necessary for the future viability of the civilization we have now. I just hope we can get the engineering problems solved in time. If you’re sorry you missed out on SpaceCom, don’t worry – it will be back next year, in December.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Saturday video break: Mrs Robinson

Let’s all sing along with Simon and Garfunkel:

Here’s a video of the song playing over scenes from the movie with which it is closely identified, The Graduate. The audio is a little weird or I’d have used it instead, but there it is if you want to watch it. The story of how that song wound up in that movie is worth reading, if only for a good chuckle at what a comedy of near-errors it was.

The Lemonheads have the best-known cover of this song, but I’m more fond of Pomplamoose’s version:

Mostly, I’m a fan of Nataly Dawn’s voice, and she nails the phrasing without being too overt about it. And I’m glad that Joe DiMaggio had the right number of syllables that Paul Simon needed.

Posted in: Music.

Who’s in to succeed Rep. Dawnna Dukes?

There are three confirmed candidates already to succeed Rep. Dawnna Dukes when she steps down next month.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Despite announcing her plan six weeks earlier to resign instead of serving another term, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes handily won re-election earlier this month.

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, abruptly announced her plan to retire in late September, citing health issues related to a 2013 car accident and concerns over caring for her 9-year-old daughter. Her announcement came amid an ongoing investigation by the Travis County District Attorney’s office into Duke’s alleged misuse of staff and government funds. Prosecutors were ready to ask a grand jury to indict Dukes just before she announced her retirement, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Despite the cloud over her office, Dukes, who has served in the House since 1994, earned about 70 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Gabriel Nila and two minor-party candidates earlier this month. Dukes’ House District 46 includes parts of Austin, Pflugerville and Manor.

Dukes has said her resignation will take effect on Jan. 10, the opening day of the 2017 legislative session. Gov. Greg Abbott has 20 days from receiving Dukes’ letter of resignation to announce the date of a special election to fill the seat, according to the Governor’s office.

Here are the Texans who have openly discussed running in the special election:

Gabriel Nila

The 44-year-old has lived in the district since 2012 and teaches at-risk youths in the area. He ran as a Republican against Dukes in the November election, earning around 19 percent of the vote. It was his first bid for public office.

Sheryl Cole

The 52-year-old former Austin mayor pro tem and city councilwoman is a longtime resident of East Austin. She and her husband, Kevin Cole, have three boys.

Jose “Chito” Vela III

The 42-year-old attorney has lived in the district for 12 years and sits on the city of Austin’s Planning Commission. He is the former board chair of the Workers Defense Project, a law firm dedicated to serving immigrants.

Vincent Harding

The 29-year-old is current chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party. He is also a local attorney and graduate of the University of Texas School of Law.

Kevin Ludlow

Ludlow ran as a Libertarian against Dukes in the general election and came in third, drawing 6 percent of the vote. He also ran against Dukes in 2014. The 37-year-old is a University of Texas at Austin alumni who operates a software firm and has lived in Austin for 19 years.

See here for the background. Cole and Vela are Democrats, and they along with Nila all confirmed that they were running. Harding and Ludlow were both maybes. One Democrat who had previously expressed an interest, Joe Deshotel, said he was out. A Green Party candidate who had been on the ballot in November couldn’t be reached for comment in the story. I feel confident saying the final list of candidates will be longer than three. Given that Abbott will have till January 30 to call for the special election, I will assume it will happen in early to mid-March, with a runoff in early April. That will give whoever wins time to cast some important votes, but not to do much else.

Posted in: Election 2017.

A win for beer

Hooray!

All you want for Christmas is a crowler to go? It probably won’t happen that quickly, but an administrative judge’s recommendation could move the state a step closer to letting bars and restaurants sell takeaway beer in the sealed, 32-ounce aluminum cans that sparked a passionate debate last year when officials cracked down on retailers who used them.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Todd Hayden, owner of Hop Scholar Ale House in the Spring area. ” … We sold a ton of beer in crowlers.”

Until last fall, that is, when Texas alcohol regulators ordered bars simply to stop using crowler-filling machines or risk losing their sales licenses or facing thousands of dollars in fines. Seven retailers, including three in the Houston area, received written warnings.

Selling beer for off-premise consumption in growlers, typically glass or stainless-steel bottles that are capped by hand, remained legal for retailers with the proper sales license. But the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission declared the crowler machines require a manufacturing license to operate. Only licensed brewpubs that make beer and can sell it to-go were allowed to continue using them.

Hayden and others put the machines in storage, but Cuvee Coffee of Austin challenged regulators by continuing to sell crowlers. TABC agents seized its equipment in September 2015. The company eventually sued in state District Court, but it was ordered to go through the administrative hearings process first.

Round 1 goes to Cuvee. In a decision dated last week, administrative judge John Beeler sided with the retailer on all counts and recommended that TABC return the equipment and change its rules.

See here for the background. Basically, the administrative judge agreed that crowlers are not usable in a manufacturing process and thus should not be subject to this requirement. The TABC can accept this ruling and adjust accordingly, or it can file an exception in the hope of getting the judge to change some part of his ruling. The deadline for that is December 2. It may still be awhile after that before the crowler machines come out of storage, but barring anything unusual this is a great result for Texas and everyone who drinks beer. Austin 360 and the Current have more.

Posted in: Food, glorious food.

Plano for high speed rail

More support for Texas Central.

The Plano City Council has lent it support to a 240-mile high-speed rail project that would run from Dallas to Houston.

The council voted 7-1 Monday night to adopt a resolution supporting the project, with Council member Tom Harrison the lone dissenter. City spokesman, Steve Stoler, said the council supported the resolution because it believes the project will help alleviate traffic in certain areas, like along Interstate 45, and boost the regional economy.

David Arbuckle, who represents Texas Central, the private company developing the rail line, spoke to the council Monday night saying that although the rail line wouldn’t extend into Collin County, it is still important for residents there.

“Plano residents could get on DART, go into downtown Dallas and be in Houston in about two hours,” Arbuckle said.

Plano currently has one DART station downtown, at 15th Street. There are also two additional proposed DART stations next to the recently approved Cotton belt line.

Stoler said Plano is one of several cities passing resolutions in support of the project. The North Texas’ Regional Transportation Council also agreed earlier this year to support the project.

This is not a surprise. Texas Central has received strong support from the urban metro areas at each end of its proposed line. The opposition is primarily from people in between. The open question is what the legislators along I-35 and points west will do when the inevitable bill stripping TCR of any authority to use eminent domain comes up for a vote.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 22

Happy Leftovers Day, y’all.

1. Hotel Pool – Lily & Madeleine
2. Womanizer – Lily Allen
3. Hypnotized – Linda Jones
4. Tumbling Dice – Linda Rondstadt
5. 1917 – Linda Rondstadt and Emmylou Harris
6. Funkytown – Lipps Inc. (Cynthia Johnson)
7. Jenny Jenkins – Lisa Loeb
8. Boy Boy – Lissie Trullie
9. Let’s Turkey Trot – Little Eva
10. Time Warp – Little Nell, Patricia Quinn & Richard O’Brien

The inclusion of Little Eva’s “Let’s Turkey Trot” is just one of those odd things that happens with these lists. “Time Warp” is of course from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I recorded but (I confess) never watched the recent live RHPS production, though the girls and I enjoyed the Ivy Levan rendition of “Science Fiction Double Feature”. I have high hopes for the forthcoming live production of Hairspray, though. “Tumbling Dice” is from Linda Rondstadt’s underrated career as a solo rocker, and also from the killer classic rock soundtrack to the movie FM. I know nothing of the movie but once had the soundtrack on cassette, taped from a roommate’s LP. That should tell you all you need to know about my opinion of the relative merits of the two.

Posted in: Music.

Hall of Fame 2017 ballot

The end of the year always brings a new Hall of Fame ballot with it.

Prominent names, old and new, highlight the annual ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which was released Monday and mailed to eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Outfielders Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez and catchers Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are the prominent newcomers. First baseman Jeff Bagwell, outfielder Tim Raines and closer Trevor Hoffman missed election in the 2016 vote by slim margins. And with the lack of a first-ballot lock, Bagwell, Raines and Hoffman all have good chances again this time around.

The announcement of the Class of 2017 is scheduled for Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. ET, live on MLB Network and MLB.com. The induction ceremony will be held on July 30 behind the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“I do think about it,” Rodriguez said when asked about his first time on the ballot. “Now that the year gets closer, I think about it almost every day.”

The ballot will grow tighter again during the next three years, with first-ballot certainties Chipper Jones (2018), Mariano Rivera (’19), and Derek Jeter (’20) set to enter the mix. Jim Thome, who hit 612 homers in 22 seasons, will also be on the ballot for the first time in ’18.

The complete ballot:

Jeff Bagwell
Casey Blake
Barry Bonds
Pat Burrell
Orlando Cabrera
Mike Cameron
Roger Clemens
J.D. Drew
Carlos Guillen
Vladimir Guerrero
Trevor Hoffman
Jeff Kent
Derrek Lee
Edgar Martinez
Fred McGriff
Melvin Mora
Mike Mussina
Magglio Ordonez
Jorge Posada
Tim Raines
Manny Ramirez
Edgar Renteria
Arthur Rhodes
Ivan Rodriguez
Freddy Sanchez
Curt Schilling
Gary Sheffield
Lee Smith
Sammy Sosa
Matt Stairs
Jason Varitek
Billy Wagner
Tim Wakefield
Larry Walker

I’ve highlighted my choices in bold, which includes all of the still-eligible holdovers from last year plus Pudge. Unlike last year, I have room for two more candidates, and will add Vladimir Guerrero to Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Billy Wagner as my list of Others To Think About. I love Jorge Posada and may consider him going forward, but I think there are enough concerns about how his defense affected his overall value to defer that for a year. As for Manny Ramirez, he’s got the stats and I care less about PEDs than your average HOF obsessive, but he was suspended twice for PED usage, and I do see a distinction between people who may have used PEDs before they were formally banned and people who got caught using them after that. And yeah, that standard will have to apply to Alex Rodriguez too, which bums me out personally. No one ever said life was fair, and I may change my mind later, but for now ManRam is off the list.

This is Tim Raines’ last year on the ballot thanks to the change to ten years of eligibility instead of 15, and I will be Very Upset if he doesn’t get in. Results will be announced on January 18. Craig Calcaterra and Jay Jaffe have more

Posted in: Baseball.

Judge issues injunction against overtime pay change

Because of cours he did.

Millions of low-paid supervisors would have become eligible for overtime pay next week, but a federal judge in Texas blocked that path late Tuesday afternoon, ruling that Congress intended duties, not wages, to determine eligibility for overtime and minimum wage.

U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant, sitting in Sherman, issued an emergency preliminary injunction to stop new overtime rules adopted by the Obama administration from taking effect on Dec. 1 as scheduled. The new rules would have raised the automatic salary threshold for executive, administrative, and professional positions to be eligible for overtime.

Under current rules, white collar workers earning more than $455 a week ($23,660 annually) are not eligible for overtime. The new rules would double that threshold to $921 per week, ($47,892 annually).

The state of Texas and 20 other states requested the injunction after filing suit to prevent enactment of the higher wage thresholds. The states argued they couldn’t afford to pay overtime to employees who were exempt under existing standards. The injunction appears to apply to all employers, including private employers.

[…]

Employment lawyers said that the ruling doesn’t mean that the new rules will get thrown out, but rather stops them from being put into effect while the case is litigated. Stephen Roppolo, a Houston lawyer, said he expects the Labor Department will ask the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to step in and overrule the lower court.

“It’s not a done deal,” Roppolo said.

The Labor Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mazzant noted in his ruling that when Congress enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, it did not include a salary threshold. The Labor Department developed a duties test to define which occupations were exempt from overtime. By 1949, the department had incorporated a minimum salary into the formula.

The last time the rules changed was 2004, when white collar workers had to meet three tests to be exempt from overtime: they had to be paid a salary, earn at least $455 per week and perform executive, administrative or professional duties.

The real focus of Congress was on the duties performed, not salary paid, noted Mazzant.

See here for the background, and here for the opinion. You’d think after an election that was supposedly all about economic anxiety and stagnant wages, a judge blocking an effort to increase the pay for millions of people who currently earn modest salaries, due to the relentless efforts of Attorneys General like Ken Paxton, might be a bit of a political issue going forward. Just a thought. The Trib, Kevin Drum, Nancy LeTourneau, and the Current have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Thanksgiving video break: Comfort music

In times like these, we turn to old favorites for joy and solace:

Thanks for being there for us, Arlo. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Posted in: Music.

David Temple granted new trial

Wow.

Kelly Siegler

The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday granted a new trial to David Temple, a former Katy football coach accused of killing his pregnant wife in 1999.

In an opinion posted online Wednesday morning, the court of criminal appeals sided with Temple’s lawyers, who argued in state district court in 2015 that Harris County prosecutors had illegally withheld crucial information during the 2007 trial.

“First things first: We get David out of jail,” said attorney Stan Schneider Wednesday in his downtown office.

Schneider said Temple will be eligible to bond out of jail in a few weeks, barring appeals from the state. If Temple’s case gets a new trial, Schneider will lead the defense, though he couldn’t say if the evidence withheld in the 2007 trial seemed likely to change the outcome.

It will be up to the incoming Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg, whether to appeal the court’s latest ruling or agree to go forward with a new trial.

The court filing Wednesday said several hundred pages of police reports had been withheld from the defense until sometime during the trail, in violation of legal precedent.

“The prosecutor believed, as evidenced by her testimony at the writ hearing, that she was not required to turn over favorable evidence if she did not believe it to be relevant, inconsistent or credible,” the filing said.

See here for previous blogging. The CCA isn’t exactly known for second-guessing prosecutors, so this is a big deal. Kelly Siegler has vigorously defended her actions since the allegations about her withholding evidence came out during the district court hearing last year, but as yet I have not seen a statement from her. It will be interesting to see what Kim Ogg decides to do with this – she could decline to go forward, try to work a plea deal, or ask the court to reconsider its decision. Whatever she decides to do, I’m guessing she’ll take her time making that decision.

Meanwhile, the CCA issued another big decision on what was clearly a big day before Thanksgiving for them.

Four San Antonio women who were imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls more than 20 years ago are innocent and exonerated, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday.

In the summer of 1994, the two girls – ages 7 and 9 – stayed at the home of their aunt, Elizabeth Ramirez, while their mother was away in Colorado, according to court records. Ramirez’s one-time girlfriend, Kristie Mayhugh, lived with her, and another couple – Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera – would visit the apartment frequently. When the girls returned home, their grandmother reportedly notice a change in the girls’ behavior.

“[T]hey were subdued, scared, and refused to make eye contact. In mid-September, [their grandmother] noticed the girls playing with their dolls in a sexual manner,” according to court papers. “When she asked the girls why they were doing this, [one of the girls said] she and her sister had been sexually assaulted at their aunt’s apartment by the four women.”

In 1997, Ramirez, considered the ringleader, was sentenced to nearly 40 years in prison. The following year, the other women each were handed down 15-year sentences. In 2012, one of the victims announced she was coerced into making a false accusation. That same year, Vasquez was released from prison on parole, and in 2013, the other women were released as the case received another look.

The women are collectively known as the San Antonio Four, and getting a ruling of actual innocence, which qualifies them to receive recompense from the state, is not an easy thing to do; in fact, the visiting judge that originally freed them from prison didn’t think they met the standard for actual innocence. This Texas Monthly story about a documentary that was released last year, is a good overview of the case, so go give it a read. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Elizabeth Ramirez and Kristie Mayhugh and Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera. Grits and the Current, which also has some good background and links to further reading, have more.

UPDATE: More from Texas Monthly.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Federal court rules there is such a thing as a too-partisan gerrymander

Worth keeping an eye on.

In a potentially transformative decision that could hobble partisan gerrymandering and restore a degree of fairness to many legislative races, a divided federal court held on Monday that Wisconsin’s state assembly maps are unconstitutional.

The court reached this decision despite a web of Supreme Court decisions that have discouraged, if not exactly foreclosed, lower courts from striking down gerrymandered maps — a testament both to the egregiousness of Wisconsin’s maps and the creativity of the lawyers who challenged them.

Whether Monday’s decision in Whitford v. Gill will amount to more than some excited headlines followed by a sinking feeling of powerlessness, however, is likely to depend entirely on how Justice Anthony Kennedy views this case when it almost certainly reaches the Supreme Court.

Whitford asked the court to find its way through a winding path left by Kennedy in his concurring opinion in Vieth v. Jubelirer. Though Kennedy’s four most conservative colleagues called upon courts to simply give up on trying to solve partisan gerrymanders in Vieth, Kennedy kept a single light of hope burning for Americans who want to choose their own lawmakers, rather than having lawmakers choose their own voters.

Though Kennedy fretted about “the failings of the many proposed standards for measuring the burden a gerrymander imposes on representational rights” in his Vieth opinion, he added that “if workable standards do emerge to measure these burdens . . . courts should be prepared to order relief.”

See here for the background, and be sure to read the whole post for the full explanation. Basically, this ruling says that if too many of one party’s voters are packed into too few districts, the map may be illegal. That could be a “workable standard” for judging such things, by Justice Kennedy’s reasoning. If this survives SCOTUS scrutiny it could have a significant effect in states like Wisconsin, where Democrats almost literally can’t win a legislative majority. However, if this standard were to be applied to Texas, the effect would be fairly minimal. Based on 2016 results, Democrats “should” have something like 62 or 63 seats in the State House. They actually have 55, with one race pending a recount though unlikely to change. The difference isn’t nothing, but it would be a few seats less if we were considering off-year elections, and in practical terms it wouldn’t change much. Be that as it may, this is worth watching if only to see if SCOTUS updates the standard it set in Vieth v. Jubelirer. A statement from the Campaign Legal Center, which represented the plaintiffs, is here, and Rick Hasen has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Collin County Commissioners Court are a bunch of jerks

Unbelievable.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

In an attempt to lay the legal groundwork to quit funding Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s prosecution, Collin County is refusing to pay a longtime local attorney for his work defending indigent clients.

On Monday, the Commissioners Court voted 3-2 to block payment to J. Matthew Goeller, a McKinney defense attorney who has provided legal services to the county for more than 20 years. The county owes him $4,831.25 for defending a poor client who was accused of sexually abusing a minor.

The commissioners aren’t refusing to pay Goeller because he didn’t do his job. They’re doing so because they hope to set the stage to refuse future payments to the three lawyers prosecuting Paxton’s felony fraud case.

The decision means Collin County taxpayers could spend tens of thousands of dollars to fight paying a man who did nothing wrong, and whose job is unrelated to the attorney general or his legal troubles, in the hopes of cutting off funding for Paxton’s prosecution.

County Judge Keith Self, who voted to block Goeller’s pay, said this is the only way to respond to taxpayers who have called on officials to appeal the cost of the Paxton prosecution, which tops six figures.

“This looks like it’s going to be one of those ironic things that we may pay more per hour for an appellate lawyer than we did for the special prosecutors,” Self told The Dallas Morning News after Monday’s vote. “Our citizens are demanding that we come to grips with [this].”

See here for the background on this. Later in the story we learn that the attorney who is being stiffed was recently in a car crash that had an effect on his memory, and he is trying to rebuild his practice. I don’t know hw the three commissioners that voted to stiff him can sleep at night, but the real prize here is Paxton himself, on whose behalf this atrocity is being committed. Seems to me that the decent Christian thing to do would be for him to ask them to give up this fight, and he’ll work with them to craft a bill that would change how special prosecutors are assigned and paid so that counties aren’t faced with this going forward. But no, it’s all about Ken Paxton, and who cares who gets hurt along the way? What a despicable bunch.

UPDATE: Apparently, public pressure got to the Court, and they have reversed their decision to stiff Goeller. They’ll try to find another case to pursue their battle against the special prosecutors.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 21

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a happy Thanksgiving as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

HISD special election runoff will be December 10

I don’t believe I’ve seen a news story about this.

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

The runoff election for the top two candidates to fill the unexpired term of outgoing HISD District VII Trustee Harvin Moore has been set for Dec. 10.

Candidates competing in the runoff are Anne Sung and John Luman.

The runoff election winner will serve the remainder of Moore’s term in office, which runs through 2017. Click here to see a map of HISD trustee districts.

Early voting times are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 30 through Dec. 2. Early voting on Dec. 5 and 6 is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting locations are as follows:

John Luman

John Luman

Harris County Clerk’s Office
201 Caroline St. #420
Houston, TX 77002

Metropolitan Multi-Service Center
1475 W Gray St.
Houston, TX 77019

SPJST Lodge 88 (the Heights Location)
1435 Beall St.
Houston, TX 77008

Harris County Public Health (Galleria Location)
2223 W. Loop South 1st floor
Houston, TX 77027

Here’s the interview I did with Anne Sung and the interview I did with John Luman. As noted in my analysis of Hillary Clinton’s performance in Harris County, Clinton carried the district, but 1) there were also a lot of undervotes, 2) turnout for the runoff is going to be really low, and 3) Clinton carried HISD VII with crossover votes. I haven’t done all of the numbers, but I can tell you that Dori Garza lost here by a 52-42 margin. That said, lower turnout may benefit Sung more than it does Luman, depending on who is motivated to come out and vote. Pantsuit Nation is touting this race, and it’s certainly possible that Sung will have some more momentum going in. All things being equal, though, this is Luman’s race to lose, and even if he does lose, Sung would have a tough re-election in 2017. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one as we go. If you live in HISD VII, mark the dates for voting on your calendar because they will zip past before you know it.

UPDATE: I have received word that the SPJST Lodge is not available for early voting for this runoff. It had originally been reported as being available, but that has changed. My apologies for the confusion.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Recount in HD105

Still not decided yet.

Terry Meza

Terry Meza

The tight Texas House District 105 race between Republican state Rep. Rodney Anderson and Democratic challenger Terry Meza is headed for a recount. Meza trails Anderson by 69 votes, according to the latest Dallas County elections office tally.

The Secretary of State’s office today approved Meza’s request for the recount, which is scheduled for Nov. 28.

“I’m cautiously optimistic and just feel like we owe it to the voters when we say, ‘Every vote counts,'” Meza said Monday.

[…]

The current vote difference is less than one-fifth of a percent of the 47,369 ballots cast. But this eastern Dallas County district that covers parts of Irving and Grand Prairie is no stranger to close contests.

Former State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown famously held on to the seat in 2008, when she beat a Democrat by a mere 19 votes. That race also went to a recount and prompted a series of lawsuits that stretched the contest into December. But the race had higher stakes eight years ago: Harper-Brown’s eventual victory gave Republicans a narrow 76-74 majority in the lower chamber. Now, Republicans hold a comfortable majority in the 150-seat chamber regardless of who wins this seat.

See here for the background. Meza actually made up about half of her initial deficit with the overseas and provisional ballots, which is impressive in and of itself. I seriously doubt the recount will change the current margin, however. Since I started blogging, there have been three legislative races closer than this one that went to a recount (and in two cases to an election contest heard in the House) without the result changing: Hubert Vo in 2004, Donna Howard in 2010, and the aforementioned Linda Harper-Brown in 2008. I strongly suspect that Rodney Anderson will prevail, and will face an even stronger challenge in 2018.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Pasadena voting rights trial update

Day One:

Pasadena City Council

The disparity in infrastructure is at the heart of a voting rights case that opened in federal court Thursday in which a group of Latino residents is challenging the city’s newly revised system of government, saying it discriminates against minority voters and intentionally dilutes their power.

By creating two at-large council seats and eliminating two of the eight district seats, the suit says, the city violated the federal Voting Rights Act, making it harder for Latino-backed candidates to get elected and leading to unfair allocation of resources.

“Filling a pothole is not a Democratic or Republican thing to do; neither is putting in a drainage ditch or a sidewalk,” said Nina Perales, one of a team of attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is representing voters. “The everyday business of a city – including maintaining the infrastructure – is not a partisan issue, and when a city council that operates almost exclusively in unison begins to divide over issues of resource allocation, that is not partisan.

“Here in Pasadena those divisions have everything to do with race,” she said, in an opening statement Thursday of the trial that will be decided not by jurors but by U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal.

Lawyers for the city, however, told the judge there were legitimate reasons to change the system of electing city council members.

Claude Robert Heath, a prominent defense lawyer experienced in redistricting law, said shifting two of the eight council seats to at-large positions did not diminish access or opportunity for Latinos, who make up about half the population. And he said the city would show that whites have not voted as a unified block in recent city races, but instead crossed over to back candidates Latino voters preferred.

[…]

MALDEF lawyers began their case before Rosenthal Thursday with data-heavy testimony from three expert witnesses: a demographer, a political scientist and a historian.

The demographer, David Ely, testified that Census data indicates Latinos in Pasadena have not achieved the same level of education as whites. They have a higher poverty rate and are likelier to live in overcrowded housing.

Next on the stand was Richard L. Engstrom, a visiting political science professor at Duke University, who is an expert in minority voting rights. Engstrom testified that the ballot measure changing the system of government passed because non-Latinos voted in a racially uniform block. He said 99.6 percent of Latinos voted “no” on the measure.

Under question by the city’s lawyers, Engstrom doubled down on his contention that the votes were not an aberration.

“Does racially polarized voting exist?” he asked, rhetorically. “In election after election after election after election, the choice of Latino voters is being eliminated as a result of non-Latino voters voting as a block.”

He later added, “Racially polarized voting exists and persists in Pasadena.”

Day Two:

It felt like a power grab in Pasadena, a Latino city councilman told the judge. Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated federal oversight for local elections, the mayor and a committee he’d appointed met behind closed doors to draw up a plan to reduce the voting power of Hispanics.

The testimony came on the second day in the federal trial of a closely watched voting rights case challenging how Pasadena elects its city council. The mayor took the stand for about an hour at the end of the day and is expected to testify at length after the Thanksgiving break.

But for most of Friday, Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra testified about the disparities in representation. Ybarra was not included in the closed door meeting, which had been scheduled to be open to the public. Ybarra said longtime Mayor Johnny Isbell approved of the gathering with police protecting the door. He said the mayor pushed the changes because he realized he no longer needed advance approval from the federal Justice Department to make revisions to the city charter.

[…]

Ybarra also said he heard secondhand accounts that the mayor and others were warning voters of “an invasion” of Hispanics in the city government: “It was all over Pasadena that if we didn’t adopt this 6-2 council, there was going to be too many Hispanics on council.”

A defense attorney questioned whether the four-term councilman was certain of what the mayor meant by “invasion.” The mayor had backed Ybarra’s candidacy when he first ran for council in 2009.

“Only the mayor and his creator know what his intent was, but the message and behavior were racially motivated,” he said.

Given the Thanksgiving holiday, the trial will likely wrap up next week. As noted, the plaintiffs have a tall order to prove discriminatory intent. It’s interesting that this trial is going on at the same time as the litigation over whether the voter ID law had discriminatory intent. I’d normally look at both of those as consequential cases with the potential to bring about a lot of change, but that would necessitate an Attorney General who isn’t a horrible racist. Rulings for the plaintiff in either or both cases would still be a big deal, just probably not as big as it could have been.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Precinct analysis: State courts

We return to our tour of the precinct data with a look at the statewide judicial races. These tend to be interesting mostly as proxies for base partisan support, but there are variations that reflect qualities about the candidates. That’s what I’m going to focus on here.


Dist    Green    Garza   Guzman Robinson  R SJ Avg  D SJ Avg
============================================================
CD02  156,800  107,513  163,092  100,247   158,852   103,416
CD07  135,310  108,540  144,087   99,977   138,618   104,011
CD09   25,906  103,431   27,993  101,594    26,242   102,489
CD10   79,113   34,926   80,104   33,297    79,337    33,927
CD18   45,665  149,521   50,198  144,817    46,814   146,929
CD29   34,618   91,898   40,381   85,592    35,849    88,188
						
SBOE6 329,707  253,583  346,471  235,776   335,602   243,912
						
HD126  34,635   24,431   35,565   23,230    34,861    23,735
HD127  47,208   23,767   48,074   22,592    47,409    23,032
HD128  40,567   16,310   40,856   15,756    40,513    15,989
HD129  40,578   25,159   42,100   23,578    41,139    24,193
HD130  57,460   20,405   58,131   19,372    57,638    19,776
HD131   6,812   38,016    7,565   37,395     6,923    37,668
HD132  36,509   29,355   37,394   28,250    36,716    28,697
HD133  46,810   25,780   49,559   23,138    47,911    24,387
HD134  44,064   41,029   49,468   35,686    46,233    38,348
HD135  31,226   26,170   32,263   25,003    31,496    25,523
HD137   8,568   17,074    9,165   16,546     8,743    16,774
HD138  26,600   22,314   27,842   20,926    26,972    21,525
HD139  11,909   38,459   12,907   37,412    12,132    37,903
HD140   6,219   20,336    7,324   19,129     6,430    19,617
HD141   4,993   32,192    5,391   31,834     4,982    32,006
HD142  10,070   33,520   10,763   32,789    10,208    33,091
HD143   8,718   22,970    9,933   21,652     8,927    22,196
HD144  10,592   15,528   11,318   14,623    10,689    14,987
HD145  10,584   22,300   12,511   20,273    11,063    21,133
HD146   9,618   36,999   10,637   36,067     9,928    36,519
HD147  11,536   43,516   13,478   41,685    12,147    42,533
HD148  17,146   27,893   19,709   25,140    18,013    26,352
HD149  15,245   26,292   15,875   25,657    15,370    25,934
HD150  47,406   25,632   48,229   24,488    47,624    24,911
						
CC1    70,859  232,823   78,886  225,102    73,125   228,635
CC2   122,115  119,904  129,022  112,013   123,728   115,261
CC3   187,552  151,403  196,274  142,372   190,521   146,507
CC4   204,547  151,305  211,872  142,722   206,690   146,412


Dist    Green    Garza   Guzman Robinson    R Avg%    D Avg%
===========================================================
CD02   56.81%   38.95%   59.09%   36.32%    57.28%   37.29%
CD07   53.24%   42.71%   56.70%   39.34%    54.00%   40.52%
CD09   19.42%   77.53%   20.98%   76.15%    19.34%   75.55%
CD10   66.72%   29.46%   67.56%   28.08%    66.96%   28.64%
CD18   22.47%   73.57%   24.70%   71.25%    22.82%   71.64%
CD29   26.39%   70.04%   30.78%   65.24%    26.88%   66.12%
						
SBOE6  54.15%   41.64%   56.90%   38.72%    54.62%   39.70%
						
HD126  56.39%   39.78%   57.90%   37.82%    56.72%   38.62%
HD127  64.08%   32.26%   65.25%   30.67%    64.37%   31.27%
HD128  68.85%   27.68%   69.34%   26.74%    67.98%   26.83%
HD129  58.89%   36.52%   61.10%   34.22%    59.05%   34.73%
HD130  71.00%   25.21%   71.83%   23.94%    71.16%   24.42%
HD131  14.80%   82.57%   16.43%   81.22%    14.88%   80.97%
HD132  53.12%   42.71%   54.41%   41.10%    53.35%   41.70%
HD133  62.02%   34.15%   65.66%   30.65%    63.04%   32.09%
HD134  49.46%   46.05%   55.52%   40.05%    51.07%   42.36%
HD135  52.28%   43.81%   54.01%   41.86%    52.30%   42.39%
HD137  31.93%   63.63%   34.16%   61.66%    31.92%   61.24%
HD138  52.08%   43.69%   54.51%   40.97%    52.34%   41.77%
HD139  22.82%   73.69%   24.73%   71.69%    23.05%   72.01%
HD140  22.65%   74.05%   26.67%   69.66%    23.03%   70.25%
HD141  13.06%   84.21%   14.10%   83.27%    12.95%   83.21%
HD142  22.41%   74.60%   23.95%   72.97%    22.57%   73.18%
HD143  26.59%   70.05%   30.29%   66.03%    26.61%   66.17%
HD144  39.06%   57.26%   41.73%   53.92%    38.95%   54.61%
HD145  30.76%   64.81%   36.36%   58.92%    31.52%   60.21%
HD146  19.91%   76.58%   22.02%   74.65%    20.26%   74.54%
HD147  19.94%   75.21%   23.29%   72.05%    20.71%   72.50%
HD148  35.91%   58.42%   41.28%   52.65%    37.16%   54.37%
HD149  35.46%   61.15%   36.92%   59.67%    35.03%   59.11%
HD150  62.31%   33.69%   63.39%   32.19%    62.52%   32.70%
						
CC1    22.48%   73.86%   25.03%   71.41%    22.93%   71.70%
CC2    48.48%   47.61%   51.23%   44.47%    48.46%   45.14%
CC3    53.16%   42.92%   55.63%   40.36%    53.51%   41.15%
CC4    55.12%   40.78%   57.10%   38.46%    55.47%   39.29%
Justice Dori Garza

Justice Dori Garza

The figures above represent the races with Dori Garza and Eva Guzman, who were the top Democratic and Republican vote-getters among judicial candidates. Guzman was actually the high scorer overall, while Garza has the second-best Democratic total, trailing Hillary Clinton but topping Barack Obama in 2008. The other numbers are aggregates of all the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals candidates, where “R SJ Avg” means “Republican statewide judicial average” and “D SJ Avg” is the same thing for Democrats. The percentages have been calculated to include the third parties, though I didn’t explicitly list them for the sake of saving space.

The differences in each district are small, but they add up. Dori Garza received 162K more votes statewide than Savannah Robinson, while Eva Guzman collected 124K more than Paul Green. As previously expressed for third party candidates, I believe being Latina was an advantage for both Garza and Guzman, as I suspect they got the votes of some people who didn’t have a strong partisan preference and were perhaps drawn to a familiar name in a race where they didn’t know anything about who was running. This advantage is not universal – I suspect if I looked around the state, the effect would be small and possibly even negative in places that have few Latino voters. You can certainly see a difference for Garza in HDs 140, 143, 144, 145, and 148 compared to other districts, where the gap between her and the average D is around four points. It also doesn’t hurt that Garza and Guzman were both strong candidates, who were widely endorsed and (at least in Garza’s case) ran actual campaigns. None of this mattered this year, but if this had been a year where the margin at the Presidential level had been two or three points instead of nine, this could have been the difference between a close win and a close loss. I don’t want to over-generalize here, as in any year there will be a high scorer and a low scorer, but it’s something to keep in mind when we start recruiting candidates for 2018 and 2020.

But also keep in mind the fact that despite getting nearly 300,000 more votes than President Obama in 2012, Garza only received 41.12% of the vote, which is less than what Obama got that year. This is because the Republican vote was up, too. Compare Garza’s race to the Supreme Court, Place 6 election in 2012. Garza outpolled Michelle Petty by 279K votes, but Paul Green outdid Nathan Hecht by 629K. Go back to 2008 and Supreme Court, Place 8, and it’s more of the same: Garza improved on Linda Yanez by 170K, while Green did 738K better than Phil Johnson. The preponderance of new voters in Harris County were Democrats. That was not the case statewide. That’s a problem, and we shouldn’t let Hillary Clinton’s performance against Donald Trump distract us from that.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Uber wants back in Austin

It’s how they get back that’s the question.
Uber

The ride-hailing company Uber may return to the state’s capital despite leaving Austin in May after a bruising fight with the city over regulation of the industry, according to Trevor Theunissen, the company’s public affairs lead.

“We are willing to negotiate, and we are willing to participate [with the city council] in a discussion on how to move forward. We want to come back here,” Theunissen said at an Austin event Thursday night.

[…]

Theunissen said that since leaving, Uber associates have been on “listening tours” throughout the city to address the concerns of the community. However, he said he hopes the company can return to Austin in the near future.

“We want to be back in Austin and I think it’s a city Uber needs to be in,” said Theunissen. “I’m hopeful that there is a path forward, but there’s a lot of work to do. I’m hoping to get back to the city before the [legislative] session or after the session.”

But former Austin City Council member Laura Morrison said Uber needs to use fingerprint background checks in vetting their drivers if they want to operate in Austin. Speaking on behalf of Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice, Morrison also said that the alternate background check methods Uber uses “are prone to critical errors.”

“Certainly, Uber is welcome to re-enter the Austin market if they are willing to operate under these rules, which all our other ride-hailing services abide by,” said Morrison. “It’s the law here, a law that the council enacted and a public safety standard that the people of Austin support. Uber operates in Houston and New York City and both require fingerprint background checks for Uber’s drivers. It’s a fair question to ask: Why does Uber think that Austinites should be subject to a lower public safety standard?”

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune before the event, a spokesman for Austin Mayor Steve Adler said both companies would be welcome back to Austin “with open arms.” He added that there’s nothing stopping either company from returning.

“The mayor has always said that there is nothing in the ordinance preventing Uber and Lyft from choosing to return to Austin where they would be welcomed with open arms,” said Jason Stanford, the communications director for Adler’s office. “In the meantime, he’s also always said that he would be happy to sit down with them to work this out but will not comment on whether these conversations exist to create a safe space in which they could occur.”

There are a couple of ways to look at this. It seems likely that a statewide ridesharing bill will be passed, which will undo the requirement for fingerprint checks that Uber found to be line-in-the-sand-worthy in Austin and to an as-yet-unexecuted extent in Houston. Viewed in that light, this may be simply the initial overtures of someone trying to get back into the good graces of an ex after a breakup. But such overtures necessarily come with a helping of regret over past actions, and I think Uber really does regret leaving Austin; I think one reason why it never did follow through on its threat to pull out of Houston was because of that regret. Austin is a perfect market for Uber, but when they do come back, whether via legislative fiat or mutual agreement with Austin’s City Council, they will face a lot more competition than they had before. It may well be that they will sweep in an reclaim a dominant position in the Austin rideshare scene, but for the past six months their customers have learned to live without them, and some of them will carry a grudge over it. One way or the other, however they get back (and they will), it won’t quite be the same.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

TEA officially backs off special education limits

We’ll see about that.

Facing increasing criticism over its special education enrollment benchmark, the Texas Education Agency this week told schools that they must provide services to all eligible students with disabilities and that they will no longer be penalized for serving too many children.

In a five-page letter, Penny Schwinn, the agency’s deputy commissioner of academics, advised school districts that a federal provision known as “child find” requires them to locate and evaluate all kids who live within their boundaries who might qualify for services such as tutoring, counseling and therapy.

“A school district’s failure to meet the child find requirements is a serious matter,” Schwinn wrote. “Furthermore, the failure to identify a child may entitle the child to compensatory education or tuition reimbursement.”

Schwinn told the districts that the TEA eventually would end the decade-old benchmark that has set 8.5 percent as the ideal rate of special education. And effective immediately, she wrote, exceeding the target would not “adversely affect” district performance levels or determinations about whether districts are audited.

A decade of audit threats related to the target has left Texas with the lowest rate of special education in the country. If the state was at the national average, more than 250,000 more students would be receiving services.

But as in the past, Schwinn also defended the policy, saying it was not a “cap” on enrollment and did not seriously punish districts for failing to comply.

“It has been alleged that some school district personnel and others may have interpreted the (benchmark) to mean that districts are required to achieve a special education enrollment rate of no more than 8.5%,” she wrote. “This interpretation is incorrect.”

The letter followed through on a promise to the U.S. Department of Education, which last month ordered the TEA to end the enrollment target and remind schools about the requirement to provide special education services to children with disabilities.

[…]

But some advocates and lawmakers said the TEA’s message was undercut by its refusal to accept responsibility for the benchmark.

“TEA says it understands the complexities of schools differentiating between problems due to disability and other factors,” said Dustin Rynders, of Disability Rights Texas. “In reality, the complexity is deciphering the mixed messages TEA sends schools.”

“We welcome the reminder that schools should evaluate those suspected of needing special education, however TEA is the cause of the problem,” he added, arguing that “TEA has no credibility” because it “keeps trying to sell its preposterous story that the 8.5 percent indicator was not a cap or a goal for the percentage of students receiving special education, while offering no explanation for why they awarded their best performance level to districts that served fewer than 8.5 percent of students.”

See here for the backstory. I agree with Dustin Rynders that we should not just take the TEA’s word for it on this. They have not been been particularly transparent, and there’s no way any of this would be happening if it weren’t for the spotlight that has been shone on them by the Chronicle’s investigation. There’s also the small matter of ensuring adequate funding for all the students who need special ed services, which as we know are not cheap. This does represent progress, but it’s definitely a situation that requires oversight and verification going forward.

Posted in: School days.

Weekend link dump for November 20

Making the case for the Detroit Lions as America’s next favorite sad-sack perennial-loser franchise.

“Donald Trump is Marion Barry for rural white people.”

RIP, Leon Russell, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician and songwriter.

RIP, Robert Vaughn, versatile character actor best know for The Man From U.N.C.L.E..

“According to two sources with direct knowledge of the company’s decision-making, Facebook executives conducted a wide-ranging review of products and policies earlier this year, with the goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias. One source said high-ranking officials were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds. According to the source, the update was shelved and never released to the public. It’s unclear if the update had other deficiencies that caused it to be scrubbed.”

“If all undocumented workers were immediately removed from the country, Edwards and Ortega forecast a decline of 9 percent in agricultural production and declines of 8 percent in construction and leisure and hospitality over the long term.”

RIP, Gwen Ifill, prominent political journalist and Presidential debate moderator.

“You, a good-hearted, well-intentioned, America-loving person, can publicly and loudly demand that the President-elect and all of his surrogates and appointees denounce all hate groups who are celebrating this win as a win for their agenda.”

“I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now.”

“It’s a tremendous problem when it’s completely obvious how someone seeking governmental action from the United States can provide substantial benefit to its chief executive.”

“There’s a reason that IOKIYAR—It’s OK If You’re A Republican—has become such a widely-used acronym.”

Well done, Brett Gelman. Well done.

“Much has been written about financial hardship turning afflicted white communities into breeding grounds for white supremacist politics, but what about when dissatisfaction has little to do with economic circumstance? It’s hard to know what can be done to combat this phenomenon, but surely we have to start by taking the link between online hatred and resentment of women and the rise of neofascism seriously.”

What Fred says.

Fewer NBA teams will be staying at Trump hotels.

“So, frustrated with Washington dysfunction, the voters have just rewarded the obstructionists.”

RIP, Ruth Gruber, who accompanied 1,000 Jews to the shores of the United States during the Holocaust. A truly amazing woman, do yourself a favor and read her obituary.

RIP, Dr. Denton Cooley, renowned heart surgeon.

RIP, Sharon Jones, amazing Grammy-nominated soul and funk singer. 2016 just keeps getting worse.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

So now what for voter ID?

It’s hard to say how much prospects have changed now that Donald Trump gets to appoint the ninth Supreme Court justice, but it’s fair to say that thing haven’t improved for the plaintiffs.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Five years ago, Texas passed one of the strictest Voter ID laws in the country. The legal fight began immediately and has continued through this day, with critics of the law getting some assistance from the Obama administration’s Justice Department.

Now, with Republican Donald Trump set to ascend to the Oval Office, the law’s future is more uncertain than ever. Among the questions up in the air: Whom will Trump nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court seat left vacant by Antonin Scalia’s death, and how will a Trump-led Justice Department operate compared to the current administration?

“We’re not going to stand idle when a law is discriminatory,” said Leah Aden, senior counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “The strategy may be different depending on who is in office, but we’ll fight it regardless of who’s in power.”

[…]

Rick Hasen, an expert in voting law trends and a professor of political science and law at the University of California, Irvine, said Texas has a “very good chance” at reversing the 5th Circuit’s ruling against them if Trump appoints a conservative justice to Scalia’s seat and the court decides to hear Texas’ appeal. It would depend, he said, on how the court reads Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which forbids changes that discriminate against minorities.

“If the court reads Section 2 very narrowly, as I expect a conservative court majority would, that would lead to a reversal of the 5th Circuit’s decision,” Hasen said. “The Supreme Court could say that the 5th Circuit applied the wrong standards to determine whether or not that was discrimination.”

See here for the last update. I’m not going to argue with Prof. Hasen, but I will say that the full Fifth Circuit, which also has a pretty conservative majority, ruled for the plaintiffs, so all hope is not lost. Antonin Scalia was always a vote to uphold voter ID, so the net effect of a Trump appointment is basically neutral. As with many things, it will likely come down to Anthony Kennedy. Having the Justice Department switch sides or at least drop out of the proceedings would be appalling but probably not a difference-maker. It’s not an optimal position to be in, but all hope is not lost.

The much greater challenge now will be the litigation over whether the law had discriminatory intent. That case is in Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos’ court, with briefs by both sides due Friday. The story says she will issue a ruling by January 24. No matter how she rules, the road after that is considerably rocky, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The other thing to watch for is the Legislature. Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick have been vowing to revisit the voter ID law in the next session, and with the current national landscape I doubt they will feel any restraints when they do. Whatever they pass will wind up in court again, and after that, who knows? I know we already know this, but it’s going to be an ugly four years.

UPDATE: Those briefs have been filed, by the Justice Department and the Attorney General.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Pot bills get their own post

They got their own story in the Trib, so why not their own post.

Zonker

Texas lawmakers across the state say they want leniency in how the state prosecutes marijuana crimes. In an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith Monday, State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said he thinks the Legislature could decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana next year, especially after several states did so on Election Day.

“We’re spending our tax dollars on incarcerating [people that don’t deserve to be incarcerated] because they got caught with a small amount of marijuana,” said Isaac, whose district encompasses Texas State University. “These are people that we probably subsidize their public education, we probably subsidize where they went to a state school, and now they’re branded as a criminal when they go to do a background check.”

Isaac added that last session he was approached by state Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody, D-El Paso, who asked Isaac to sign on to a decriminalization bill but didn’t because he “didn’t feel like it was the time.” During the interview Monday, however, Isaac said “it is the time now” and publicly pledged to sign on and work to get a bill passed that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

Among the Texas proposals that have been filed thus far:

  • House Bill 58 by state Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would create a specialty court for certain first-time marijuana possession offenders based on the principle that first-time defendants are often self-correcting. The measure is intended to conserve law enforcement and corrections resources, White said in a news release.
  • State Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody, D-El Paso, filed House Bill 81, which aims to replace criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $250. The bill also allows Texans to avoid arrest and possible jail time for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Moody authored a similar bill during the previous legislative session; it did not pass.
  • State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, filed House Bill 82, which aims to classify a conviction for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor instead of Class B. However, if a person is convicted three times, it would revert back to a Class B misdemeanor. Dutton co-authored a similar bill last session with Moody.
  • State Sen. José Rodríguez filed Senate Joint Resolution 17, which would allow voters to decide whether marijuana should be legalized in Texas, following the pattern of a number of states.
  • Senate Joint Resolution 18, also authored by Rodríguez, would allow voters to decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical use if recommended by a health care provider. “It is long past time we allow the people to decide,” Rodríguez said in a statement.
  • Rodríguez also filed Senate Bill 170, which would change possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil one.

Some of this is a continuation of efforts from 2015, some of it is in recognition of the multiple pro-decriminalization referenda that passed in other states, and some of it is from the desire to save a few pennies on law enforcement and criminal justice. I don’t care about the motive, I applaud the direction. As was the case in 2015, the main (though not only) obstacle is likely to be Greg Abbott, who was not interested in anything more than the meager cannobinoid oil bill that passed during that session. Typically, Abbott has had nothing to say about whether he remains firmly anti-pot or not. We’ll have to see what the lobbyists can do with him. For those of you who want to see changes, these are the bills to follow for now.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Smoke-free Houston, ten years later

From the inbox:

It’s been 50 years since the release of the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health and the harmful consequences from the use of tobacco. 2016 marks the 10th year of the adoption of Ordinance No. 2006-1054 prohibiting indoor smoking in Houston public areas and places of employment. Individuals could no longer smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces or within 25 feet of a building entrance and exit.

So, where are we now, ten years later?

The Houston Health Department has compiled a brief of the ordinance impact on Houston heath and economy, describing successes and future challenges ahead.

Here is what I blogged about the ordinance at the time. There was a social media campaign going on to promote this anniversary. It began on November 7, the day before the election when everyone was sure to tune into such a campaign, and it culminated on November 17, which is the date of the annual Great American Smokeout. Timing issues aside, the document linked at the top of this post is worth perusing. Fewer people are smoking in Houston, though we are not yet at the goal envisioned by this law, and there are measurable health benefits as a result. I certainly prefer this world to the one we used to live in.

Anyway. The Go Healthy Houston Facebook page is where you will see some of the social media stuff. There are concerns about e-cigarettes, which are becoming popular with the kids, and which are currently exempt from existing anti-smoking laws because e-cigs didn’t exist at the time those laws were passed. I’ve noted this before, and I’ll say again that I won’t be surprised if this eventually makes its way before Council for a tune-up on the no-smoking ordinance. There was legislation proposed in 2015 to ban the sale of e-cigs to minors, but none of the bills in question made it through. This too may come up again in 2017, not that it will be a priority. In the meantime, go visit a park or restaurant and enjoy the smoke-free air around you. It’s so much better this way.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Saturday video break: Mr Blue Sky

Here’s Lily Allen covering a classic rocker:

I kind of love this version. She has the perfect voice for a song that always makes me happy to hear. Now here’s the Electric light Orchestra original:

It’s good, and you have to love the trippy 70’s animation, but honestly I say Allen does it better. It’s faithful to the original but it just feels peppier. What do you think?

Posted in: Music.

Emmett says he will run for re-election in 2018

Well, this was unexpected.

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Thursday that he plans to seek re-election when his current term is up in 2018, ending speculation that he might step aside after more than a decade at the helm of the nation’s third most-populous county.

Emmett, a Republican known for his pragmatic, steady approach, said he made the decision Wednesday night after conferring with family and friends.

“I’m in kind of a unique position to bring people together at a time when it’s needed more than any other,” the 67-year-old Emmett said. “Harris County is a big, diverse place with lots of problems. Those problems don’t have simple answers.”

[…]

Emmett’s current term expires Dec. 31, 2018.

He said part of the reason he announced his intention to run Thursday was because the March 2018 primary is less than 18 months away and campaigns would likely get underway soon.

“I’ve got some money in the bank,” Emmett said. “But if I’m going to run, I need to make it clear so that those people who support me can get behind me.”

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Friday that she had been considering a bid for the judgeship, but would not do so given that Emmett is seeking re-election.

“If he’s not there,” Parker said, “I’m going to be first in line.”

As is the way of all things these days, Emmett made his intentions known via Twitter. Judge Emmett himself told me he was planning to retire after his current term was up. He said that to me after an interview I did with him, saying something to the effect of “there are things you can do in your 70s that you can’t easily do in your 80s”. That was a comment made in passing, not a carved-in-stone promise, and clearly his thinking has changed. Or maybe he just likes the job too much to want to quit. Whatever the case, barring anything unusual there will not be a vacancy in this office in two years.

That obviously complicates things for Democrats who are thinking about the next election, as can be seen by Annise Parker’s comment. Judge Emmett is well-regarded and probably the most popular politician in the county. He was the top vote-getter in 2010, he ran unopposed in 2014, and was re-elected easily in 2008 despite the strong Democratic wave that year. I suspect that despite all this someone will run against him in 2018 anyway, as there are legitimate policy matters that deserve debate, and only so many opportunities available for a person of ambition. We’ll see how it goes.

Posted in: Election 2018.