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Firefighters turn in their petitions

Good for them, but boy is this thing a train wreck.

Houston firefighters delivered over 32,000 signatures to City Hall Monday in support of putting a ballot initiative on the November election mandating parity in pay between firefighter and police-officer ranks.

[…]

“This petition drive was necessary because Houston firefighters are at a breaking point,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association at a press conference Monday morning. “We now are asking the voters to help Houston fire fighters because the city refuses to do so.”

Former Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman, who is advising the petition effort, said a formal cost estimate of the initiative if approved in November has not been determined.

Using average figures for the cost of police and fire personnel without regard to rank, increasing fire base pay to match that of police would cost roughly $40 million in the current fiscal year. The city finance department projects annual budget deficits of more than $100 million for the next five years.

See here for the background, and a long comment thread. I mean look, this isn’t a proposal right now, it’s an idea. There are literally no details. If one were to run for office on this idea, one would expect to be questioned about basic things, like how much will this cost, and how will the city match job titles across two differently-structured departments. Anyone who provided the answers the firefighters are giving now would not be taken seriously, to put it mildly. In addition, while a candidate for office would have until November to come up with satisfying responses, the firefighters have until the end of August, at which time referendum language would have to be written and approved by City Council.

And what do you think that referendum language might say, based on what we know so far? Think of the recent history of ballot referenda and all the ensuing litigation over said language, and ask yourself if there is any possible wording that will satisfy both the proponents and opponents of this idea. The ballot language lawsuit practically writes itself – it will just be a matter of finding the right taxpayers to serve as plaintiffs. If it is written with sufficient detail to explain how it will be done it will be attacked as too complicated for anyone to understand, and if it is stated simply it will be derided as vague to the point of meaninglessness. This is a bad idea on so many levels, and you can take it to the bank that it will be tied up in court for years to come. The Press has more.

UPDATE: Here’s the full Chron story. I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.

Posted in: Local politics.

Special session starts today

It was a good summer before now, but all of that comes to an end today. In the best case scenario, the sunset bills get passed and nothing else happens. I don’t know what will happen, but at least the ongoing animosity between the House and the Senate gives the “nothing happens” scenario a chance. In the meantime, let us remember the reason, the real reason, why we are here. The Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune and The Rev. Stephanie Cooper call it what it is.

We are calling out the bullying behavior of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his ally Gov. Greg Abbott towards the most vulnerable among us. While the percentage of students who identify as transgender is small, many school districts have found caring ways to support families as they encourage healthy development of these children.

In most ways, these children are no different from any other. They are kids who go to school, get involved in extra-curricular activities, make friends and have hopes and dreams like other kids. And just like all other kids at their school, they simply need to use a restroom.

But like schoolyard bullies, Patrick and Abbott have chosen to pick on these most vulnerable victims and pressured others into joining their cause. May we remind you: These bullies are picking on children.

We are especially offended they have used our Christian faith to defend their bullying behavior. Nothing could be further from the Christian spirit of welcoming the stranger, defending the vulnerable and following the Golden Rule.

As far back as 1990, the people of our church — and many others in Texas — welcomed transgender persons and their families as equals in the household of faith and beloved of God. The signs on our restrooms read “God created and welcomes us in all of our diversity. At University Baptist Church, all are welcome to use the restroom that best fits their gender identity.”

The bullying “bathroom bill” targets the vulnerable in the name of protecting the public from a problem that does not exist. Our transgender congregants are far more likely than the public to be the targets of verbal and physical assault, not to mention exclusion and discrimination. We are offended that Patrick and Abbott use this bill to demonize our friends by creating public fear based on lies to consolidate their power. Their bill places our transgender congregants and their families in deeper danger of discrimination, slander and even violence.

I couldn’t agree more. When I was a kid in Catholic school, we used to sing a song called “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love”. Do you think anyone knows Dan Patrick or Greg Abbot or Ken Paxton by their Christian love? Maybe there are some policy items in their record they can point to that could be described as “loving”, but they’re not the first things you think of with these guys. And no, I don’t believe it’s necessarily the role of government to be “loving”, but if your brand is Extra Strength Christian, then maybe you could be, I don’t know, just a little Christ-like in your behavior? Just a thought. Yes, as we well know, a bathroom bill would be a job killer and businesses universally hate it, but the reasons to oppose this effort are much more fundamental than that.

On a related note, I would be remiss if I did not mention this.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott may have come to San Antonio on Friday to announce his intentions for a second term, but he also, unintentionally, gave one local activist the trolling opportunity of a lifetime.

After his speech Abbott stuck around to meet with supporters. Enter Ashley Smith.

Now, Smith is no supporter of Abbott, but she is someone who has a very vested interest in the outcome of one of Abbott’s pet pieces of legislation, the so called “bathroom bill.”

The longtime San Antonio resident and LGBTQ activist waited through the speech for an opportunity to meet Abbott.

It wasn’t so she could shout insults or spout off at the governor, it is because sometimes a picture is worth far more than words.

“I did not think it (shouting) would work, or that I would be heard and was more interested in the getting the photograph and not getting thrown out,” Smith said.

The picture she ended up taking was of a very happy looking governor next to a beautiful woman.

In large bright lettering in the photo, Smith captioned it with “#Bathroombuddy,” and identified the governor and herself as “Texas Governor Greg Abbott,” and “Ashley Smith Trans-Woman.”

She then posted the photo to her Facebook page where the humor and irony of it quickly caught on and took off.

Click over to see the picture, if you haven’t already. And just remember, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick want people like Ashley Smith to be in the men’s room with them. The DMN has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

News flash: Businesses still hate bathroom bills

IBM hates them.

As state lawmakers return to Austin for legislative overtime, tech giant IBM is stepping up its fight to defeat legislation it says would discriminate against children and harm its Texas recruiting efforts.

In an internal email sent Monday to thousands of employees around the world, IBM’s human resources chief outlined the New York-based company’s opposition to what the letter described as discriminatory proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans. IBM sent the letter to employees the same day it dispatched nearly 20 top executives to the Lone Star State to lobby lawmakers at the state Capitol. A day earlier, it took out full-page ads in major Texas newspapers underlining its opposition to legislation that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a cadre of far-right lawmakers have deemed a top priority.

“Why Texas? And why now? On July 18th, the Texas legislature will start a thirty-day special session, where it is likely some will try to advance a discriminatory ‘bathroom bill’ similar to the one that passed in North Carolina last year,” wrote Diane Gherson, IBM’s senior vice president for human resources. “It is our goal to convince Texas elected officials to abandon these efforts.”

[…]

The email IBM sent to employees on Monday echoed concerns businesses voiced in their letter to Abbott earlier this year, saying the company — which has more than 10,000 employees in Texas — is focused on defeating the bathroom proposals because they’re detrimental to inclusive business practices and fly in the face of “deep-rooted” values against discrimination targeting LGBT people.

“A bathroom bill like the one in Texas sends a message that it is okay to discriminate against someone just for being who they are,” Gherson, the company’s HR chief, wrote.

As do other companies.

CEOs from 14 leading employers in the Dallas area, including AT&T, American Airlines and Texas Instruments, are taking a public stand against a “bathroom bill” that would discriminate against transgender people in Texas.

On Monday morning, they delivered a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus. A bathroom bill, the letter says, “would seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investment and jobs.”

“Our companies are competing every day to bring the best and brightest talent to Dallas,” the letter says. “To that end, we strongly support diversity and inclusion. This legislation threatens our ability to attract and retain the best talent in Texas, as well as the greatest sporting and cultural attractions in the world.”

The letter is signed by Randall Stephenson of AT&T, Doug Parker of American Airlines, Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines, Kim Cocklin of Atmos Energy, Matthew Rose of BNSF Railway, Mark Rohr of Celanese, Harlan Crow of Crow Holdings, Sean Donohue of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Emmitt Smith of EJ Smith Enterprises, Fred Perpall of the Beck Group, David Seaton of Fluor, Thomas Falk of Kimberly-Clark, Trevor Fetter of Tenet Healthcare and Richard Templeton of Texas Instruments.

As the story notes, these efforts join other efforts by businesses to stop this thing. Such efforts have been met with an indifference bordering on hostility and contempt by Abbott and especially Patrick. I appreciate what all these companies and groups like TAB and the various chambers of commerce and visitors’ bureaus have done so far, which has been a tremendous help in keeping this awful legislation from reaching Abbott’s desk. But the big question remains what they will do after the special session gavels out, whatever the outcome of these efforts. I’ve had this question for a long time now. Between potty politics and the anti-immigration fervor of SB4, a lot of damage has already been done to our state’s reputation, and the men in charge keep wanting to do more. They’re not going to go away if they lose this session – they have the zealous will and a crap-ton of money powering them. Will these business interests, who have been getting so badly served by politicians they have generally supported, or at least tacitly accepted, in the past, put their money where their press conferences are and actively oppose Abbott and Patrick and their legislative enablers? Or will they bend over and take another lash from the paddle? One wonders at this point what they think they have to lose. The Chron has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Rockets for sale

The end of an era.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, among the longest-tenured owners in North American professional sports, has put the franchise up for sale, team president Tad Brown announced Monday in a stunning, hastily-called news conference after Alexander reached his decision.

Brown said Alexander, 73, has no health issues that led to the decision to sell the team nearly 24 years to the day after he purchased it for $85 million from Charlie Thomas. Brown said Alexander reached the decision that shocked the NBA, the organization and even those closest to him Monday morning.

“It’s something he’s been thinking about a little bit,” Brown said. “It can wear on you after so many decades. There are passions in his life now that are becoming more and more clear, his family and his philanthropic efforts.

“He made the decision. Once he makes up his mind, his mind is made up.”

Brown said there is no specific timetable for the sale of the team, but the NBA does have a list of prospective buyers that have shown interest in purchasing a team. Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who bid for the team in 1993, said he would be interested again. The price tag could run as high as the record $2 billion the Los Angeles Clippers sold for three years ago.

Brown will oversee the effort to sell the team in consultation with the league. He said Alexander is committed to finding a buyer that will keep the team in Houston. It would be unlikely that any ownership group would seek to move the team to a considerably smaller market. The Rockets’ lease with Toyota Center runs through 2033.

Forbes in February placed a valuation on the franchise at $1.65 billion, though Brown said those valuations have typically been “very low” when teams have been sold. The Atlanta Hawks were sold for $850 million in 2015, the most recent sale of an NBA team.

Like most people, I am sorry to see Alexander go. Beyond the cachet he gets from being the owner for two championship teams – and though they are now long gone, he gets credit for four Houston Comets championships, too – he was just exactly the kind of owner a fan could want. He put the team first, he didn’t shy away from letting his GM make a big move, and he was a very good public citizen. I’ve never been embarrassed to be a Rockets fan, and that’s something I can’t say about any other team I root for. Godspeed, Les Alexander. I can only hope your successor follows in your footsteps. NBA.com, ESPN, Yahoo, and the Press have more.

Posted in: Other sports.

This special session is going to be so much fun

So much repressed hostility

Starring Dan Patrick as Thelma, Greg Abbott as Eunice, and Joe Straus as Vint

Five days before the Texas Legislature is scheduled to open a special session, it is clear the relationship between the leaders of the House and Senate remains as strained as it was at the end of the regular session.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick used a press conference to blast fellow Republican and House Speaker Joe Straus, comparing his education funding proposals to a “Ponzi scheme,” accusing him of laying the groundwork for a state income tax, and complaining that Straus won’t even meet with him one-on-one to bridge their differences.

Those comments come almost exactly one month after Straus used a speech in San Antonio to demand the state’s school finance system be added to the special session call and took issue with the Senate’s focus on transgender bathroom issues. And earlier this year Straus had compared the Senate’s budget writing to Enron accounting methods.

Patrick said his news conference on Thursday was to roll out new education proposals, including a bonus system for teachers. But much of the focus of the first 10 minutes was on his counterpart in the House and his continued call to have public school finance added to the special session call.

Patrick said Straus’ was using education funding as “dangerous political stunt” and accused him of having no plan to pay for the billions of additional funding Straus has said the state should be committing to schools.

“Where does that money come from? The only way to do it is a state income tax,” Patrick told reporters.

Later Patrick was even more direct.

“I will not join the Speaker and lay the groundwork for a state income tax,” Patrick said.

[…]

“It’s encouraging to see the Lieutenant Governor’s newfound focus on school finance reform,” Straus responded in a prepared statement.

“Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session,” Straus said.

so little time.

“My position is very well known. And let me say this very clearly: I know how to govern without being an extremist,” Straus said. “I know how to govern, trying to bring people together to focus on issues that really matter to all Texans, and I think that’s where our focus ought to be in the special session. It’s where our focus should be in any regular session as well.”

The bathroom proposal would keep transgender people from using multi-occupancy restrooms of the gender with which they identify in government buildings, or at least in public schools.

Straus, along with advocates for transgender people and business groups, has voiced concern about the possible economic effect of boycotts because the bill is viewed as discriminatory. He also has expressed a worry that it could hurt transgender people.

“I see no good reason to promote a divisive bathroom bill when it does nothing but harm to the economy, and some very vulnerable people could be harmed,” Straus said.

[…]

Straus, who has been a thorn in the side of Abbott and Patrick on red-meat issues, said he considered it “actually encouraging” that Patrick was talking about school finance. Straus has said that issue is more worthy of attention than most of those on the special-session agenda.

On Friday, when Abbott was showcasing his record as he announced for re-election in San Antonio, Straus made his point about the need to focus on core issues by citing CNBC’s annual ranking of America’s Top States for Business. In it, Texas fell from No. 1 to No. 4. The No. 1 state was Washington. Its governor and both senators are Democrats.

“While No. 4 is not a terrible place to be, I don’t like the direction. And I think that our Texas political leadership ought to be focused on making Texas No. 1 and reverse that slide,” Straus said.

They’re putting the “special” in “special session”, that’s for sure. The Observer has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Let a thousand hypothetical alternative Texas Congressional maps bloom

Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections takes a crack at drawing a remedial Congressional map for Texas.

Just how effective is GOP gerrymandering in Texas, and what might a redrawn map look like in 2018 as a consequence of a favorable court ruling? To answer these questions, we’ll analyze a hypothetical fully nonpartisan congressional map below as part of our ongoing series on how Republican congressional gerrymandering affected the 2016 elections. We drew this map by balancing traditional nonpartisan redistricting criteria such as preserving communities of interest, minimizing city and county divisions, respect for the Voting Rights Act, and geographic compactness, while ignoring factors like where incumbents live.

To ensure that our hypothetical nonpartisan congressional map complies with the Voting Rights Act and past Supreme Court precedents, we have estimated the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) according to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey in addition to the official 2010 census population figures. Since Texas has a large and disproportionately Latino non-citizen population, all demographic figures given below refer to CVAP unless noted. We have additionally calculated results by district for every statewide partisan race from 2016 back to 1996 using the Texas Legislative Council’s redistricting data sets, and you can find all of those demographic and election statistics here.

Before we delve into the map, we’ll start with a quick note about what the Voting Rights Act requires. The VRA protects racial or ethnic minority groups in certain districts where there is 1) racially polarized voting, 2) a compact minority population, and 3) a majority population that would otherwise vote as a bloc to defeat candidates chosen by minorities. The VRA does not require that these districts elect a representative who belongs to the protected racial or ethnic group, just that the group can elect its chosen candidates, who may happen to be white.

As the Supreme Court has emphasized in recent racial gerrymandering rulings, a single racial minority group does not actually need to comprise an absolute majority of a protected district’s population so long as the group can reliably elect its candidate choice in that district. Consequently, black VRA districts often do not need to be majority black, while Latino VRA seats sometimes need to be considerably more than 50 percent Latino due to low turnout rates.

With those VRA requirements in mind, here is our proposed nonpartisan Texas congressional map.

[…]

As shown below, our fully nonpartisan congressional map likely would have given Texas Democrats four or five extra House seats in 2016. Those districts include the 2nd in west Houston, the 6th in Ft. Worth, the 10th in central Austin, and the 23rd in San Antonio and El Paso, while the 25th in suburban Austin could’ve gone either way. Additionally, the GOP-held 32nd District in northern Dallas becomes slightly bluer, meaning this map’s impact could grow in future elections.

As we explained above, even if the court strikes down the GOP’s gerrymander and orders the state to draw new districts, it’s likely that Republicans will be able to draw a new gerrymander under additional constraints. Such a scenario would likely see Democrats and Latinos gain at least two seats between South Texas and Austin.

However, it’s an open question whether the court would require a new seat in Dallas-Ft. Worth that would likely elect a third extra Latino Democrat at the expense of a white Republican. The GOP would likely still get to gerrymander in Austin, Houston, and northern Dallas, but two-to-three extra safe seats would be a big deal for Democratic hopes of a House majority in 2018.

Conversely, if Texas Republicans for some reason do not get the opportunity to draw a new map and the court does it for them, the GOP really could be facing the “Armageddon” scenario that it fears. Regardless, we have demonstrated how Republican gerrymandering produces a monumental difference in the Lone Star State’s congressional delegation, and it likely cost Democrats more seats in 2016 than in any other state.

Go read the full writeup, which is very detailed. A 21R/15D split, which this map would produce if the swing CD25 stayed Republican, would be pretty representative of statewide voting patterns, basically giving Republicans 58.3% of the Congressional seats. That’s in line with my own calculations, though of course that will be a moving target over time and across Presidential/non-Presidential years. One local effect of this map would be that the gaggle of contenders in CD07 would need to refile in CD02, if they wanted a winnable race. If nothing else, this particular map is a model of compactness – there are no districts that look like they fell out of a Salvador Dali painting. The trial is now over, so this is more of an academic exercise than anything else; I don’t know if it would have been possible to file something like this as an amicus brief for the trial, but it might have been interesting to have done so. Anyway, take a look and see what you think.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Who still misses the National League?

The Chron’s Brian Smith makes the case for acceptance of the Astros’ league change.

Those were the days

Admit it: You don’t think about the old National League that much anymore.

I devote a lot of my daily brain space to the Astros, and I rarely do.

Saying “Jose Altuve, American League starting second baseman and leadoff hitter” sounds just fine. Seeing George Springer and Carlos Correa in the AL’s lineup against stars from Washington, San Francisco and Cincinnati felt perfectly normal Tuesday.

“Baloney. Houston has always been a National League town. This was all about money and never about the fans,” wrote Glenn, in the same year the rebuilding Lastros lost a franchise-record 111 games. “I cannot in good conscience root for a team that fields a (choke) designated hitter (i.e. washed-up fat guy) and plays the Noo York Yankees on a regular basis. How far a drive is it to Cincinnati?”

About 1,050 long and boring miles, Glenn. And I guarantee you never would think about making that slog now, especially when you can watch the best team in the American League at home and are just three months away from being able to buy a playoff ticket at Minute Maid Park.

Look, the hate was real. I got it then, and I get it now. One of the greatest things about baseball is its history, and any time that’s threatened – steroids, cheating, realignment – all of us believers get very, very serious.

“It became evident the move to the AL was an issue,” owner Jim Crane said in November 2011, after MLB approved the Astros’ sale and dictated the move to the AL, giving each league 15 teams and all divisions five clubs apiece.

Isn’t time funny? And isn’t it crazy what winning – and players and a team you believe in – can do?

The late-night West Coast games are still a chore. Outside of the Texas Rangers – who are 16½ games back, if you haven’t heard – I’m still not sold on any of the Astros’ other AL West opponents.

But Selig’s move is actually helping the AL’s best team in 2017. Four of baseball’s five best clubs are in the NL, and the Astros actually would be second overall in their old league, trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by half a game.

Selig also helped push the Astros into the postseason in 2015. The two NL wild cards had at least 97 wins. The 86-win Astros needed until Game 162 to clinch the sport’s last playoff spot and wouldn’t have sniffed a Division Series if they still played in the NL Central.

Smith got some passionate feedback on this, as you might imagine. I’m a Yankees fan from Staten Island, so I have no emotional investment in this, though I can certainly understand why longtime fans would not be over it yet. On the plus side, consider that if the Astros make it to the World Series this year, they could be the first team ever to win a pennant in both leagues. For that matter, if they wind up playing the Milwaukee Brewers, then both teams in the World Series would have that distinction – the Brewers won a pennant in 1982 when they were still in the American League. Given that they’re the only two teams to switch leagues, there’s not much competition for that distinction, but it would be pretty cool nonetheless. Whether it makes anyone feel better, or at least less upset, about the league switch, I couldn’t say.

Posted in: Baseball.

Weekend link dump for July 16

What part of DO NOT TOUCH was unclear to you?

Somehow, this is not satire. I got nothing.

“This, of course, presents a problem for marketers: How do you sell food to a group of people that American culture has harassed into a near-universally fraught relationship with your products? It turns out the answer is easy: Just give them something to do with food that isn’t eating it.”

“This is why Senate Republicans are having so much trouble with the health care bill. The Republican health care effort is the most unpopular legislation in three decades — less popular than the Affordable Care Act when it was passed, the widely hated Troubled Asset Relief Program bank bailout bill in 2008, and even President Bill Clinton’s failed health reform effort in the 1990s.”

“The GOP’s health care effort began with the premise that Obamacare is bad and must be repealed and replaced. But repeal and replace is a means to an end, not an end itself. The end, in theory, is the post-replacement health care system — a system that aligns with the GOP’s vision of how health care should work. But that vision is absent. When we asked eight Republican senators to tell us what the health bill was meant to achieve, we got eight different answers, and most of them were incoherent.”

“But in Fayette County and 779 other mostly rural counties across the country — the vast majority of which went for Trump — more than half the children rely for coverage on Medicaid and the related Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, according to a Times analysis of county voting data, census data and Medicaid enrollment data.”

“The head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit in charge of deportations has directed his officers to take action against all undocumented immigrants they may cross paths with, regardless of criminal histories. The guidance appears to go beyond the Trump administration’s publicly stated aims, and some advocates say may explain a marked increase in immigration arrests.”

That was no ordinary Russian lawyer that Fredo Trump met up with.

Yes, you can safely ignore those Jayden K. Smith Facebook messages.

RIP, Deborah Grayson Carpenter, champion for models with disabilities.

“So I would recommend that Twitter immediately suspend Trump’s account. They should do so not only because it’s in the public interest, but because he has violated many of their own rules.”

“These geniuses may not have constructed an intricate conspiracy, but it’s as if they desperately want everyone to believe they did.”

“This, then, is Junior’s official explanation: I thought we were colluding to ratfck the Democratic candidate, and the presidential election in general, but then she started talking about getting the mobsters’ money back. Bitch set me up.

“The best defense of Trump’s associates, at this point, is they were too dumb to know what they were doing — a defense that doesn’t work when it includes experienced international operators like campaign manager Paul Manafort and ex-Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn. Donald Trump Jr.’s own defense of himself is that he attempted to collude with Russian agents but they didn’t have any useful information and so he didn’t.”

“This is what ought to register: The scheme appears to have been put into play by a Putin regime official and a Putin-friendly oligarch who was Trump’s business partner in Russia—and Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager all joined in. (A pop singer, a Russian lawyer, and a talent manager all had supporting roles.) Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort were looking to collude with a foreign power to gain an advantage in the election—an allegation the Trump team has repeatedly and passionately denied.”

“Trump is saying that he took the meeting because he had, in fact, been promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a Russian source, but that it was no big deal because the lawyer didn’t deliver. Interesting way of thinking about it, Don. Let’s ask anyone who appeared on To Catch a Predator how that argument holds up in court. Oh, sorry. They’re not answering the phone. Because they’re probably in jail now.”

“Future historians and present day pundits will have a lot to say about all of this. Many of those things will have great bearing on the future of our nation and on Trump Jr.’s continued freedom. But, I’m afraid that in all that important discussion we’ll lose track of one of the most salient points: This is so embarrassing. Fortunately, I have plenty of time for the curation of schadenfreude. Here’s six petty points about the most embarrassing parts of this whole imbroglio.”

Some casting trivia for Game of Thrones, if you’re into that sort of thing.

RIP, Chuck Blazer, controversial former FIFA executive.

“No matter how Trump Jr. thinks political researchers spend their days, opposition research is not a dark art. (I’m not sure I’d even consider it any kind of art.) When done well, it’s a thoughtful, directed process of compiling known facts and figures about relevant life and career elements of an opponent to bolster an argument. But even when done badly, opposition research still has nothing to do with what Trump Jr. did. There are lines that trained and talented political operatives wouldn’t cross. The emails Trump Jr. released Tuesday show he has no idea where they are.”

“How strong is Aaron Judge? Strong enough to make actual rocket scientists look stupid.”

“These are the facts: Jared Kushner held suspicious meetings with Russians officials and operatives that he failed to disclose when he applied for a security clearance. If he weren’t the president’s son in law, he’d have been frogmarched out of the White House long ago. Why does he still have access to America’s biggest secrets?”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Redistricting trial wraps up

Now we wait.

The state of Texas faced a healthy dose of judicial skepticism on Saturday as its lawyers laid out final arguments in a trial over whether lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in enacting current Texas House and Congressional district maps.

A three-judge panel peppered lawyers from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office with questions that suggested they were having trouble swallowing the state’s defense of its maps, premised on the argument that lawmakers were merely following court orders in creating them.

The state Legislature adopted the maps in 2013 in an effort to half further legal challenges that began in 2011.

In the final hours of six days of hearings, U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez said he saw “nothing in the record,” to suggest the 2013 Legislature, before approving the boundaries, considered fixing voting rights violations flagged by another federal court identified ahead of time.

He and another district judge, Orlando Garcia, also criticized the state’s unwillingness to offer documents and testimony that might shine a light on lawmakers’ intentions. State lawyers kept such evidence out of court throughout the trial by claiming “legislative privilege,” which allows lawmakers to keep secret their communications on policy along with their “thoughts and mental impressions.”

The plaintiffs “get no documents, because you invoke legislative privilege. They get no testimony because of legislative privilege,” said Rodriguez, a George W. Bush-appointee. “How else are they going to get it?”

[…]

It’s not clear when the judges might rule, but they said they wanted to avoid affecting the 2018 elections which could be pushed back if new maps are not approved in time.

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. Michael Li notes that however quickly (or not) the judges may rule, there will still be appeals. Lord only knows when we may have a final map – the possibility that primaries will be delayed, as was the case in 2012, cannot be overlooked. Li also rebuts the argument that it’s just not possible to draw additional minority districts.

Consider, for example, the configuration of Dallas-Fort Worth area congressional districts in Plan C286, the demonstration map drawn by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere and offered at trial by the Rodriguez plaintiffs.

Under Plan C286, TX-24 would become a coalition district with a citizen voting age population that is 36.1% Latino, 18.7% African American, and 5.8% Asian (mostly of Indian and Pakistani descent).

The district largely overlaps the Dallas County commissioner district currently represented by Elba Garcia and like that district would in all likelihood elect the Latino preferred candidate in the Democratic primary, although a candidate supported by a cross-ethnic coalition could also win. But, regardless, in the general election, the minority preferred candidate would win overwhelmingly virtually every time.

Compared to the 1991 version of TX-30, Plan C286′s TX-24 is much more compact and confined wholly to western Dallas County.

More importantly, unlike minority districts that in the past drew criticism for splitting cities and towns, TX-24 in Plan C286 keeps the cities of Irving, Grand Prairie, and Farmers Branch intact, joining them seamlessly to heavily Latino parts of the adjacent City of Dallas. (TX-33 a coalition district in neighboring Tarrant County, likewise, closely tracks municipal boundaries).

Li has a couple of maps from the demonstration plans to illustrate his point. Indeed, he says, you have to divide up cities to avoid the creation of minority districts nowadays. There were multiple maps creating such districts on offer, it’s just a question of whether or not the judges will accept one of them. Hopefully, we’ll know soon enough.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Coming home to run

Another Washington Post story about 2018 Congressional candidates that spends a lot of time on a Texas race.

Laura Moser

Before Donald Trump was elected president, Laura Moser was a freelance writer delving into a project about alternative religions in America. In the months after, she became a leader of the resistance against the president, launching a text messaging platform that enabled hundreds of thousands of shellshocked Trump opponents to contact their representatives about a different issue each day.

The success of that effort spurred the 39-year-old Capitol Hill mother of two to think about what else she could do. In the middle of the Trump-red electoral map, she saw an opportunity: The 7th Congressional District in her home town of Houston went blue for the first time, tipping to Democrat Hillary Clinton by one point. Rep. John Abney Culberson was reelected, but Moser saw the conservative Republican losing touch with the fast-growing, increasingly diverse district in which she grew up.

First she started recruiting other people to run. But she said her conversations kept circling back to “What about you?”

So she packed up her rowhouse and moved her three cats, two young children and political consultant husband 1,400 miles away to vie for the Democratic nomination to challenge Culberson in 2018.

“I had to work up the courage to even imagine myself running for Congress,” she said. “But I eventually decided that our country had a moral problem in only letting white men — even the right-minded ones — have a seat at the table.”

[…]

“My grandfather arrived as a Nazi refugee to this district,” she told them.

“I have been trying to get my Yankee husband back there for many years. It took Donald Trump being president to make it happen.”

She talked about why it was worth investing in her campaign and the chance to turn the district blue. After she spoke, Ben Allen, one of the hosts, signaled to the guests to get out their checkbooks.

“If we can’t vote for you, we can support you in other ways,” he said.

Moser’s East Coast connections gave her a boost in the start to her campaign. Within the first five days, she raised about $100,000, more money than Culberson’s previous challenger, lawyer James Cargas, had amassed during his entire 2016 campaign.

But the primary is shaping up to be competitive, with seven Democrats so far contending for the nomination, including two other women.

Moser believes a woman has an advantage in the race. Women constituted many of the swing voters who crossed political lines to vote for Clinton, she said. And if the resistance to Trump has a face, Moser says, it’s clearly female.

See here for a previous example of this kind. Moser hasn’t put out a press release with her Q2 finance numbers yet – she clearly got off to a good start, but she also has some strong competition on that score. Given the size of that primary field it’s a little early to talk about the prospects of a female candidate. For what it’s worth, the woman in Texas who likely has the best shot at being our next female member of Congress is Veronica Escobar. But I sure won’t mind if she has some company.

Posted in: Election 2018.

The broader implications of the Pasadena voting rights lawsuit

Buried in this Trib story about the ongoing saga of Pasadena’s voting rights lawsuit is this nugget about the state getting involved.

The case could reverberate beyond Pasadena’s city limits. Legal experts contend that a decision by the 5th Circuit could guide other courts around the country that are considering similar voting rights cases.

The Pasadena ruling also has the potential to help build a case against the state, which faces its own voting rights challenges in court, said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston who has studied voting rights cases for decades.

In lifting federal electoral oversight for Texas and other jurisdictions in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that conditions for minority voters had “dramatically improved,” but the justices left open the possibility that political jurisdictions could be placed back under preclearance if they committed new discriminatory actions.

Earlier this year, Texas faced a barrage of federal court rulings that found the 2011 Legislature intentionally discriminated against voters of colors by passing a stringent voter ID law and re-drawing the state’s political maps. Those cases are still making their way through federal courts in Corpus Christi and San Antonio.

The Pasadena ruling — “particularly because it was so thoroughly stated and so strong and by a judge that has no history of favoring blacks or Latinos in redistricting cases” — could serve as “another brick in building this case that Texas has a recent history of discriminatory action,” Murray said.

In a sign that Texas leaders also see Pasadena as a potential problem for its own cases, state attorneys filed an amicus brief in support of the city’s appeal, arguing that preclearance “must be sparingly and cautiously applied” to avoid reimposing “unwarranted federal intrusion.”

Judge Rosenthal’s preclearance ruling in the Pasadena case was improper, the state contends, because it was imposed for a single incident of discrimination instead of pervasive and rampant discrimination.

Raise your hand if you’re surprised that the state got involved. I’m surprised it took them this long. It is not yet clear if the city of Pasadena will continue to pursue this appeal. New Mayor Jeff Wagner has said he will abide by the will of Pasadena City Council. He hasn’t said much about it since being elected, including when he might ask them for their opinion. The Fifth Circuit declined to overturn Judge Rosenthal’s injunction on using the 6-2 Council map, but they did not address the merits of the overall ruling, including the bail-in on Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. I don’t know what the time frame for a hearing of that appeal at the Fifth Circuit might be, but broadly speaking it’s likely to be some time in 2018. Unless Pasadena decides to drop it and accept the lower court ruling, of course. Will the state’s intervention have an effect on that? We’ll know when Mayor Wagner asks Council to vote on the appeal.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Saturday video break: Secret

We’re all about the 80s here, and very few things say “the 80s” like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.

It’s the hair, the synthesizers, the usage of black and white footage to tell a story about…well, I don’t know exactly, but that’s not the point. The point is, this is what the 80s was all about. Move it forward two decades and here we have Mieke Pauley:

Not 80s at all, but someday when it’s time to create a radio station that caters to the tastes of people who were the same age in the Aughts as I was in the 80s, this song might make the playlist. Assuming there are still such things as radio stations by then.

Posted in: Music.

Redistricting trial update: Invoking privilege

Interesting choice.

Texas’ defense of its electoral maps suffered a setback Friday when a state witness couldn’t defend lawmakers’ intentions for much of his testimony.

[…]

Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, was the chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting in 2013. He invoked legislative privilege for more than 20 minutes Friday during the plaintiffs’ cross-examination.

Legislative privilege, according to the Texas Constitution, protects lawmakers from having to explain their decision process. It prevents them from being called into court to explain every law they pass. But it is used with caution because once invoked, a lawmaker can’t choose to answer any questions on the legislative process.

Nina Perales, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents a group of Latino lawmakers in the case, asked whether Darby evaluated amendments to the congressional maps based on racial polarization and whether the maps complied with the federal Voting Rights Act.

She asked whether he analyzed the gains of Latino voting power in certain districts and whether court rulings that previously found discriminatory issues with the maps influenced changes made during the 2013 special session. Perales also posed a question about whether an incumbent had proposed changes to his district to preserve his seat.

But because Darby had invoked legislative privilege and could not testify, it effectively ceded ground to Perales, who laid out her argument unchallenged through her line of questioning.

“The fact that he doesn’t testify about his reasons means that the state has no evidence to counter our evidence,” Perales told The Dallas Morning News.

Like I said, interesting choice. This isn’t a criminal case, and there’s no jury, so I presume the judges are free to draw whatever inferences they want from this.

There was more to the state’s defense than that. Both that story and the Trib have those details.

Throughout the week, lawyers representing plaintiffs have offered several alternative House and congressional maps, which they say demonstrate ways to add more opportunity districts and fix violations judges have flagged in past rulings. (The maps were not aimed at maximizing minority representation in Texas, but rather to meet legal standards.)

John Alford, a political science professor at Rice University who the state offered as an expert witness, dismissed those maps as not addressing the problem that the plantiffs claim exist.

“It’s not possible to create an additional majority-minority district in Texas,” Alford said.

[…]

“I don’t think there’s ever been a more exhaustive attempt to redraw a map, than the one here in Texas,” Alford testified.

The state on Friday sought to poke holes in the maps offered by plaintiffs, which rely partly on “coalition” districts where Hispanic and black voters, only in the majority when combined, could elect candidates of their choice — at least in general elections when they overwhelmingly favor Democrats.

Alford, the state’s expert, criticized the plaintiffs’ demonstrated coalition districts, arguing — largely relying on past Democratic primary election results — that Hispanic and black voters in various districts vote differently, preferring candidates of their own race. He underplayed general election data and testimony from voters, which the plaintiffs point to suggest the minority voting groups clearly coalesce around Democrats following primaries.

In that sense, Alford testified, the maps plaintiffs offered would not address Hispanic voters’ statewide underrepresentation.

Lawyers’ for the plaintiffs criticized the minimal value Alford put on general election data, and they highlighted one instance — an even split in black and Hispanic support for U.S. Rep. Mark Veasey, D-Fort Worth, in his 2014 primary win — that did not fit within Alford’s analysis.

The trial is scheduled to wrap up on Saturday. [US Rep. Will] Hurd is expected to testify, and the judges are also expected to pepper lawyers with a lengthy set of lingering questions.

The judges have forty-five questions for the lawyers, which, wow. Alford has been the state’s go-to expert on redistricting for years; he was their expert witness for all of the litigation that followed the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003. Seems to me a claim that you can’t create another majority-minority district in Texas is ludicrous on its face, but that’s for the judges to decide.

Posted in: Legal matters.

HCC Board censures Chris Oliver

It’s the most they can do.

Chris Oliver

The Houston Community College system’s board of trustees decided Thursday to reprimand a 21-year veteran of the elected board who has pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge.

The board’s eight other members decried Christopher W. Oliver’s acceptance of unlawful payments as “reprehensible.” They voted unanimously to formally censure Oliver, strip him of his vice chair role, freeze his spending account and remove him from all committees, including the audit committee he had chaired.

[…]

Trustee Robert Glaser said the board acted as quickly as possible.

“We didn’t leave anything on the table,” he added.

“It affects us all,” said trustee Adriana Tamez. “This totally takes away from the great things that are going on. … There’s no excuse.”

[…]

The board’s bylaws lay out the group’s options in ethics situations: “If the Board finds a violation of this Ethics Code, it can reprimand or censure the Board member, the only sanctions available under Texas law.”

In general, elected officials cannot be removed by their colleagues. The underlying principle is that voters alone get to choose their representatives.

The HCC board’s legal counsel said Oliver still holds his position.

“The Board does not have the authority to remove a Board member from elected office,” the Bracewell law firm said in a statement emailed by HCC spokesman Todd Duplantis. “That process is governed by Texas law.”

The board’s counsel, Bracewell partner Jarvis Hollingsworth, told the Chronicle in 2010 that censure is the harshest punishment available to the board. Elected trustees only can be removed by state district judges, he said.

See here and here for the background. Given that the Board does not have the authority to remove Oliver from office, I agree that they did all they could. Given that Oliver has not yet resigned, I would still like to know what the process is for getting a district court judge to remove him. Is that something the Board can initiate? According to Robert Glaser, the answer to that is No:

[Oliver] is scheduled for sentencing August 28. The act of sentencing will remove him from office. Folks have from July 22 to August 21 to ‘throw their name in the hat’ to run for his seat this November. We may let the sentencing action play out- as that is going to happen in (6) weeks, anyway. It may take that long for anyone to get an action thru state court to get his removal completed. We, as a board, cannot initiate the action. An individual living in Harris County would need to initiate the action. This is from information provided to us by our legal counsel.

Good to know. As for Karun Sreerama, I’m not ready to render a judgment on him just yet. I haven’t called for Ken Paxton to resign as AG because as malignant as I think he is, he is still innocent until proven guilty. Sreerama has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing, nor does it appear he was let off the hook for anything in return for cooperation in the Oliver investigation. That doesn’t mean his behavior isn’t problematic or worthy of consequences, just that we have a lot less information right now about what he actually did and why he did it. Maybe he felt he was being coerced, or maybe he was acting out of a (possibly misguided) sense of compassion, I don’t know. If you want to make like Herodias and call for Sreerama’s head on a platter, you do you. I’d like to hear what he has to say for himself first. The Press has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Your periodic reminder that non-citizens very rarely vote

I know you don’t need a reminder, being sophisticated followers of the news and all, but here it is anyway.

Since Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote in November, our new commander-in-chief has consistently attacked the legitimacy of popular vote totals that showed his rival, Hillary Clinton, well ahead of him on election day. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted in November. Although he has doubled down on the claim in several subsequent statements, offering an estimate of three to five million illegal votes and complaints about specific states, Trump has failed to provide evidence of widespread fraud.

Myrna Pérez, a Texas native and civil rights lawyer, won’t take the president at his word. As head of the Voting Rights and Elections project at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, Pérez has seen states around the country—Texas included—rushing to respond to voter fraud threats. “As someone who’s driven by data, as someone who researches elections, as someone who is in the business of making sure our elections represent the voices of actual Americans, I’m very troubled at the policies we see that seem to not have any science or data behind them,” Pérez says.

Pérez, a graduate of San Antonio’s Douglas MacArthur High School who now teaches at Columbia and NYU law schools, decided to check if Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud had any empirical backing. Her team at the Brennan Center reached out to all 44 counties in the U.S. that are home to more than 100,000 non-citizens. The team also contacted several of the largest and most diverse counties in the three states—California, New Hampshire, and Virginia—where Trump made specific claims of “serious voter fraud.” Forty-two counties responded to Perez’s queries, including Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, and El Paso counties in Texas. The counties Pérez’s team interviewed accounted for over 23.5 million votes in the 2016 election. However, the county elections administrators reported a combined total of only 30 fraudulent noncitizen votes in 2016—about .00001 percent of the votes totaled.

“Noncitizen voting in Texas, as in the rest of the country, is rare,” Pérez concludes. As for the nationwide total of fraudulent votes, she says her methodology doesn’t offer a reliable estimate, but that there is no way it’s three to five million people. “Not even close,” she says.

Pérez’s criticisms are echoed by elections administrators around Texas—the people work to assure that eligible voters can cast a ballot and ineligible voters cannot. “I have not seen the numbers to support that,” says El Paso County elections administrator Lisa Wise, referring to Trump’s three to five million claim. “The integrity of elections is a priority for this department, and I believe that it is intact until I see differently.” Bexar County elections administrator Jacquelyn Callanen also backs that sentiment. “I welcome the light being shined on this, to show that our records are well-maintained,” Callanen says. “We stand for integrity. We take such pride and we do such, I think, a magnificent job of list maintenance and voter participation.”

You get the idea. I will point out, as I have done with stories about how incredibly rare other forms of voter fraud are, that our current Attorney General and our previous Attorney General would each sell their soul (well, maybe they’d sell your soul) to bust and convict any number of non-citizens they could catch in the act of voting. The fact that they have conspicuously failed to do so over a multi-year and multi-election period of time should tell you something.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Friday random ten – All in, part 4

All good things must come to an end.

1. All The Voices – INXS
2. All The Way To Memphis – Mott the Hoople
3. All The Young Dudes – Billy Bragg
4. All These Years – Solas
5. All Things Dull And Ugly – Lager Rhythms
6. All Through The Night – Peter, Paul & Mary
7. All Together – Dougie MacLean
8. All Too Well – Taylor Swift
9. All Work And No Play – Van Morrison
10. All You Wanna Do Is Dance – Billy Joel

We end where we started, with Billy Joel. I didn’t even include “All For Leyna”. Mott the Hoople, whose name apparently comes from a weird novel about circus freaks, did the original version of “All The Young Dudes”; it was written for them by David Bowie, who had also offered them “Suffragette City” but they turned him down. Someone could probably make a living writing alternative music history novels. I’ll have a new topic word next week.

Posted in: Music.

Who will run statewide for the Dems?

For several statewide offices, it is unclear at this time who might run.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Lillie Schechter, the new chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party, has watched in recent months as at least seven candidates have come through the doors of the party headquarters to introduce themselves, eager for their shot at U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

That’s seven candidates that she can recall, but she may be forgiven for forgetting: Texas’ 7th Congressional District is one of several that have already drawn a swarm of Democratic candidates for 2018. The bonanza is unfolding not just in districts like the 7th — one of three in Texas that national Democrats are targeting — but also in even redder districts, delighting a state party that is not used to so much so interest so early.

“When we have competitive primaries, we get to engage with more Democrats,” Schechter said. “I do not see that as a negative thing.”

Yet it’s just one part of the picture for Democrats at the outset of the 2018 election cycle. While the congressional races are overflowing with candidates, the party remains without a number of statewide contenders — a reality that is coming into focus ahead of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s anticipated announcement Friday that he’s running for re-election. Barring any last-minute surprises, Abbott will make his second-term bid official without the presence of a serious Democratic rival.

[…]

So far, Democrats have three statewide candidates they see as serious: U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso for U.S. Senate, Houston-area accountant Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, for agriculture commissioner. They are without similarly credible contenders for governor, comptroller, land commissioner, railroad commissioner and attorney general — a seat considered particularly worth targeting because the GOP incumbent, Ken Paxton, is under indictment.

By far the biggest profile belongs to O’Rourke, who announced his challenge to Cruz in March. As the top of the ticket — assuming he wins his party’s primary next year — he stands a chance of being Texas Democrats’ standard-bearer in 2018, regardless of whom they ultimately put up for the other statewide jobs.

In an interview Monday, O’Rourke said he was not worried about the lack of company so far on his party’s statewide ticket.

“I can’t worry about what I can’t control, and so we’re just going to focus on our campaign,” he said.

But he also expressed optimism for the party’s prospects up and down the ballot in 2018 “as more people become aware of how significantly the dynamics have changed in Texas.”

The story notes that former State Rep. Allen Vaught is also looking at Lt. Governor, and it’s not impossible to imagine him running there with Collier shifting over to Comptroller again. I am aware of at least one person looking at the AG race, and if there’s one slot I feel confident will have a name in it, it’s that one. As for Governor, who knows. We wanted Julian Castro, but we’re not going to get Julian Castro. I had been thinking about Trey Martinez-Fischer, but he’s not interested. As with AG, I feel reasonably confident someone will run. I just don’t know how exciting that person will be.

As the story notes, there are many, many people running for Congress. At least five races, in CDs 02, 07, 21, 31, and 32, have multiple candidates, and some of those candidates have already raised a very decent amount of money. There are still plenty of races in need of candidates – CDs 22 and 24 come to mind, as well as SD16 and various State House seats – but I’m not worried about any of them yet. One way of thinking about this is to note that in the last three cycles, the number of Democratic challengers for Republican-held districts in the State House has been 38 in 2016, 37 in 2014, and 39 in 2012, with the latter being inflated by redistricting and the 2010 wipeout. Fewer than half of all Republican State House incumbents have had November opponents in each of these cycles. To be sure, one reason for that is that a large number of these districts are basically hopeless from our perspective, but there is more to it than that. If there’s ever a year to get a larger number of challengers for red districts, this is it. We won’t know the totals for certain until after the filing deadline, but this is something to keep an eye on. The DMN has more.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Finance reports still slowly coming in

From the inbox:

Lizzie Fletcher

Lizzie Pannill Fletcher announced today that she raised more than $365,000 in her first seven weeks of the campaign as a Democratic candidate for Texas’ Seventh Congressional District, a seat currently held by Representative John Culberson.

Fletcher’s report for the 2017 second financial quarter will show strong local support; nearly 90% of contributions came from within Texas and almost 80% of contributions from within the city of Houston.

“I am humbled and proud that so many Houstonians I have known and worked with for many years have supported this campaign in these first few weeks. And I am equally proud that many people I have met on the campaign trial have enthusiastically endorsed its message and supported me,” Fletcher said. “Houston is ready for a change in representation, and this is just the beginning.”

Campaign Treasurer Gordon Center noted, “As a first-time candidate, Lizzie is quickly building up a strong war chest in order to communicate her message effectively to voters in the 7th Congressional District. Lizzie has been an advocate for Houston and Houstonians for years, so it is no surprise that these substantial campaign contributions have come from right here in her hometown.”

I’m not going to report these one by one, but right now the Congressional candidates are the most prevalent, and since the FEC reports likely won’t be available till the end of the month, this is what I’ve got. Fletcher joins Alex Triantaphyllis and the two main contenders in CD32 in posting a strong first number. Also reporting a good first number is Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke:

Our grassroots campaign raised $2.1 million in the second quarter!
➡ $0 from PACs
➡ 46,574 individual donations
➡ 81% of money raised was from Texas
➡ Average contribution was $44

For a bit of perspective, that’s about half the total Rick Noriega raised for his entire 2008 Senate campaign. As the Trib notes, it’s also more than some incumbent Democratic Senators who are up for election in 2018 did in Q2. In other words, not too shabby. It’s still going to take a lot more than that to be able to effectively communicate with voters across the state – remember, most people as of today have never heard of Beto O’Rourke, and it’s kind of hard to persuade someone to vote for you if they have no idea who you are – but this is an excellent start.

There are a lot more candidates out there, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how everyone else does. I plan to review all of the reports, for Houston, HISD, HCC, Harris County, and the state as they come in next week. I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about once we have all the data.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Still a few bugs in the system

A continuing story.

While Harris County officials are complaining that a federal judge’s bail order threatens public safety, the county has failed to provide more than 100 low-level defendants with pretrial services aimed at ensuring they make their court dates.

The latest revelations come amid criticism from District Attorney Kim Ogg, who accused county officials of trying to deliberately undermine the success of defendants released on personal bonds to bolster the county’s argument.

“Clearly the hope is that the reformed bail process fails,” Ogg said in a June 30 email obtained by the Chronicle. “This is necessarily a violation of their ethical duty and certainly not in the best interest of ordinary Harris County citizens.”

Ogg’s email did not identify which officials she believed might be responsible, and her office referred a request for additional comment to a court filing in which she supported changes to the county’s cash-bail system for misdemeanor offenses.

[…]

By missing court, the defendants also miss out on the assistance provided by the county’s Pre-Trial Services Division, such as text reminders about upcoming court dates that other defendants get seven days in advance and again on the day of the hearing.

Kelvin Banks, director of pretrial services, said a vendor, Voice4Net, manages the text messages for the county. He said his office is working with the vendor to set up reminders for those who are released by the sheriff, and is moving forward with plans for an additional staff member and training at the jail.

He said Monday he was reviewing resumes.

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can do to give defendants the best opportunity to be succesful on pretrial release,” Banks said.

Another vendor, called Uptrust, met with county officials on June 28, two days before Ogg sent her email, proposing a two-way messaging system that allows defendants to respond and provides information on childcare options and transportation.

It’s a little hard to say what is going on here, based on this story. There’s a lot of he-said/she-said in there. My basic premise all along is that the county has very little credibility on this issue, so I generally discount the complaints from Commissioners and judges about how hard this all is and how they’re Doing Their Very Best and Just Need A Little More Time and so on and so forth. Every action by the county – specifically, by those who continue to fight to support the status quo – is one of foot-dragging and reluctance to make changes, even small ones. I’ve yet to see a show of good faith. If we ever get to that point, then maybe I’ll take their complaints seriously. Until then, I say quit whining and do what the judge ordered you to do.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

There is trouble with the trees

More to the point, there is trouble with the idea that municipal tree ordinances are somehow a bad thing, but that’s where we are, and it’s got some folks worried.

Never turn down an opportunity to reference a Rush song

More than 40,000 trees were lost to [Hurricane] Ike, according to the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy. A replanting campaign that began in 2010 has made significant progress: Volunteers have spent more than 17,000 hours planting more than 16,000 trees, including 250 live oaks and 60 palm trees on Broadway.

Now this effort faces a new threat – not from nature, but from politicians in the state Capitol. Gov. Greg Abbott wants the Legislature to strip cities of the authority to regulate – and essentially protect – trees on private property. It’s one of 21 items the Republican governor has placed on the agenda for a special session that begins July 18.

This action would weaken tree-protection ordinances in more than 50 Texas cities.

Local leaders across the state oppose the idea, but the issue has particular resonance in Galveston because of Ike’s devastating effect on its tree canopy.

In the storm’s aftermath, trees became precious jewels. Homeowners agonized for months, hoping in vain that their treasured oak or magnolia would somehow recover, before accepting the inevitable. Every dead tree that was felled and hauled away left the island a little barer, its people a little more sorrowful.

“Everyone was just so devastated by the loss,” said Jackie Cole, president of the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy.

To bolster the recovery effort, the City Council passed a tree-protection ordinance in 2015. The measure requires property owners to seek a permit before removing trees considered significant based on their size or other factors. Trees that are unhealthy, that pose a hazard or that meet certain other criteria may be removed without penalty; others may be cut down only if the owner replaces them with trees of a specified size or pays into a local tree fund.

See here for some background. I would point out that for all of Abbott’s tree-hatred, his little vendetta will still require the consent of the Legislature. I hope the people of Galveston have been directing their concerns to Sen. Larry Taylor and Reps. Wayne Faircloth and Greg Bonnen. If local control still means anything, it needs to mean something to them.

By the way, story author Mike Snyder has a sidebar piece about the effort to defend local tree ordinances, which is being led by Defend Texas Trees. Turns out that most of the municipal tree ordinances in the state aren’t about what homeowners can and cannot do but about what developers can and cannot do, with restrictions and incentives in place to preserve mature trees. In other words, Abbott’s intended ordinance isn’t just an attack on trees, it’s a boon for developers. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Redistricting update: It’s all about the emails

Two days into the trial, and there’s more drama.

Plaintiffs challenging Texas’ 2013 redistricting maps Tuesday accused the state of improperly delaying the release of thousands of pages of documents from them, including 113 documents that state lawyers refuse to hand over because they say they are privileged.

The spat may further delay a conclusion to the weeklong trial, which already was frustrating judges because of repetitive questions.

Many of the documents in question pertain to communications of the chairman of the 2013 redistricting committee, Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, with other people involved in the redistricting, according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The documents, under rules imposed by the three-judge panel, should have been disclosed years ago in the six-year old lawsuit, along with what’s known as a “privilege log,” but the apparent failure was recently discovered by Mark Gaber, one of the lawyers representing what’s known as the Quesada group of plaintiffs, according to court papers filed by Gaber.

After Gaber pressed for the documents last week, state lawyers over the weekend released more than 7,000 pages but stopped short of turning over everything. Gaber filed an emergency motion to compel the state to turn over the 113 pages it says are protected by attorney-client privilege.

“They’ve sort of strung it out throughout the weekend,” said José Garza, a lawyer representing another group of plaintiffs, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “We just got another drop this morning. It was documents that had been requested two years ago.”

That was a Tuesday report, now here’s one from Wednesday.

Minorities in Texas are facing uphill battles in getting proper representation in the state as the Legislature continues passing laws that are biased toward them, according to witnesses for civil rights groups challenging the state’s 2013 political boundaries.

Allan Lichtman, a social scientist and history professor at American University, analyzed patterns in the state, including events leading to the 2013 special session that resulted in the latest congressional and state House maps.

Though Republicans have admitted that prior “redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats,” Lichtman testified that his analysis shows that isn’t true.

“What was done here was to knowingly and intentionally impede the opportunity for African-Americans and Latinos to elect candidates of their choice,” Lichtman testified. “What we see here is intentional discrimination.”

[…]

Lichtman also testified that although Latinos and blacks contributed nearly 90 percent of the state’s explosive growth in recent years, they remain under-represented by nearly four congressional districts. Anglos, whose population decreased, are overrepresented by 5 ½ districts, Licthman said.

The testimony magnified statistics in a graphic Luis Vera , legal counsel for the League of United Latin American Citizens, showed the court: Despite contributing to most of Texas’ explosive growth that resulted in the state gaining four new congressional districts, Latinos today control only 16.7 percent of congressional districts in Texas – the same percentage they held in 1970.

See here for the opening report on the hearings. There may or may not be anything to these emails, but it sure does serve the state’s purposes to run time off the clock. In the Wednesday story, we learn that the judges ordered the state to turn over half of the remaining 113 emails they had refused to hand over before. The plaintiffs are still presenting their case as of yesterday, with the state’s defense to follow. Michael Li continues to live-tweet the proceedings, and the DMN, the Trib, and ThinkProgress have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Houston Public Works director caught up in HCC bribery case

Unclear yet how big a deal this is, but it is a big deal.

Chris Oliver

Houston Public Works Director Karun Sreerama made $77,143 in unlawful payments to a Houston Community College trustee who faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to bribery, according to federal court records.

The payments – made when Sreerama ran a private engineering firm – are related to an extortion and bribery case against 21-year HCC trustee Christopher Oliver, who was accused of taking payments and promising to use his position to help secure contracts with the community college system. The acting U.S. attorney has agreed to dismiss the extortion charge against Oliver in exchange for his guilty plea on the bribery indictment, court records show.

The extortion count lists an individual with the initials “K.S.” as a “victim” of “extortion under color of official right” carried out by Oliver between December 2010 and August 2013, meaning Oliver allegedly used his position as a public official to obtain an unlawful payment.

Sreerama’s attorney and two sources with knowledge of the case confirmed that Sreerama, who at the time owned the engineering firm and frequent public contractor ESPA Corp., is the person identified as “K.S.”

[…]

Houston attorney Chip Lewis, who is representing Sreerama, on Tuesday said his client was one of several targets of a “shakedown” by Oliver, and suggested broader fallout from the federal probe is to come.

Lewis said the payments in question were related to projects stemming from the college’s 2012 bond referendum.

“In doing the very diligent work the agents and prosecutors did in this case, they discovered Oliver soliciting and extorting Karun,” Lewis said. “When he was approached, he voluntarily met with the authorities and told them everything. Obviously, everything he told them checked out and was corroborated. That’s why he was a victim of Mr. Oliver’s scheme and not implicated in any criminal wrongdoing.”

Sreerama’s consent to the payments, as the Oliver indictment states, is not inconsistent with his status as a victim, Lewis said.

“Oliver made it very clear if Karun refused to make the payments that are reflected in the indictment he wouldn’t get the contracts,” the attorney said.

ESPA conducted facility studies for the college system in the years preceding and at the time of the payments, including a master plan that projected the system’s building needs through 2035.

See here for the background. Ted Oberg at KTRK adds a few more details.

According to Sreerama’s attorney, Chip Lewis, Trustee Oliver approached Sreerama three times asking for money. At the first meeting, Oliver allegedly told Sreerama he was going through a divorce and could not pay expenses for two households. Sreerama allegedly loaned Oliver thousands of dollars after that meeting. It was never paid back.

At a second meeting, Lewis told ABC13 Investigates, Oliver explained he was adopting a child and needed to have a particular balance in his bank accounts. Lewis says Sreerama again gave Oliver thousands of dollars.

The third time, Sreerama agreed to hire Oliver’s construction site clean-up company to sweep a strip mall for Sreerama.

According to the court documents, the payments totaled $77,143.34. Lewis did not dispute the amount and said Sreerama cooperated and his bank provided canceled checks to the FBI. Sreerama is not under investigation, Lewis said.

On Wednesday in the late morning, after this story was published, Mayor Turner put out a statement that says he is “placing city Public Works and Engineering Director Karun Sreerama on administrative leave with pay” while he reviews the matter. The Mayor also said he “was not aware of the federal case until this week”, which puts him in the same boat as the rest of us but makes one wonder what Sreerama had to say about this during his hiring process. I can believe that Sreerama didn’t know about the case against Oliver, but one would hope that he knew that these payments were questionable at best. Did the subject ever come up, or was his future boss completely blindsided? I can’t speak for Mayor Turner but it would make a difference to me.

As for Oliver, the HCC Board has called a meeting for today to discuss what happens next. Trustee Robert Glaser has been posting about this on Facebook, and he notes that the Board does not have the legal authority to boot Oliver off. Only a state district court judge can do that, though what the process for that is was not specified. The Texas elections code states that “To be eligible to be a candidate for, or elected or appointed to, a public elective office in this state, a person must […] have not been finally convicted of a felony from which the person has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities”. Oliver does not get sentenced till August 28, and I don’t know if he is “finally convicted” until he is sentenced. He can, of course, choose to resign, as the Chron urges him to do. If for whatever the reason Oliver does not do that, then the HCC Board needs to figure out how to get a judge to force him out. This should not be up for debate. Campos and the Press have more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Culberson does his Culberson thing to Metro again

It is what it is. But maybe, just maybe, there’s now a sell-by date on it.

Houston may have stopped building light rail lines, but the fight over them rages on — right to Washington where Rep. John Culberson again has inserted language keeping tracks off Richmond and Post Oak.

For the fifth consecutive year, Culberson, R-Houston, added language to the draft of the House appropriations bill for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, specific to the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County. Section 163 of the THUD bill, as it’s called, bars federal officials from spending money that “advance in any way a new light or heavy rail project … if the proposed capital project is constructed on or planned to be constructed on Richmond Avenue west of South Shepherd Drive or on Post Oak Boulevard north of Richmond Avenue.”

The area in question is within Culberson’s district, and he vigorously has opposed any light rail projects along Richmond, citing resident opposition and his belief that Metro deceived voters when it narrowly won approval for a “Westpark” rail line in 2003.

[…]

In the draft bill released Monday, the language provides for Metro to regain federal funding if it wins voter approval that specifically identifies a route along Richmond and Post Oak as part of a region-wide comprehensive plan for transit.

“The ballot language shall include reasonable cost estimates, sources of revenue to be used and the total amount of bonded indebtedness to be incurred as well as a description of each route and the beginning and end point of each proposed transit project.

Metro, meanwhile is working on a regional transit plan, holding the first of 24 community meetings on Monday night in Cypress. That leaves Metro a long way from any work along Richmond, Metro CEO Tom Lambert said.

“I think, quite frankly, we’re at a point in time right now where we need to see what we should be doing,” Lambert said.

We are familiar with the drill by now. Metro is working on that regional transportation plan, and I feel reasonably confident that a Universities Line 2.0 will be part of it. It just makes sense. We may get to vote on a new referendum next year, at a time when Culberson will be facing his most competitive race in a decade. I have to assume there will be some public discussion about this between now and then. Let’s just say that I welcome the debate.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 10

The Texas Progressive Alliance would like to bottle and sell Angela Merkel’s eyerolls as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Here come the LGBT candidates

Keep your eyes on these folks.

Fran Watson

At least four Houstonians are among the numerous LGBTQ Texans eyeing campaigns in 2018 and 2019. One of the Houston candidates has formally announced, and three others are strongly considering runs.

“People are fed up, and they want a better Texas,” said Fran Watson, who’s considering running as a Democrat in Texas Senate District 17, which covers parts of Harris, Brazoria, and Fort Bend counties. That district is currently represented by Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston).

“Texans deserve leaders who have the everyday issues of Texans in mind, rather than focusing on who uses what bathroom,” said Watson, an attorney who serves as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. Huffman voted in favor of Senate Bill 6, the anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”

“There are people in the district who are hurting, and I know how to identify with these people,” Watson said. “I also have the skill set to draft legislation to help them.”

[…]

Other potential LGBTQ candidates are eyeing Houston City Council races in 2019. Ashton Woods, the founder of Black Lives Matter: Houston, said he may run for either the District K or an at-large seat. District K is represented by Council Member Larry Green, who will be term-limited in 2019.

“We have to stand up and fight back,” Woods said. “People are being left behind and treated as nonexistent. People have basic human needs—if they are missing a meal, they can’t think about fighting back. We had Donald Trumps before there was a President Trump. They are in our backyards and in elected offices. We need to fight the Trumps in our backyards.”

Nelvin Adriatico, who owns a Sugar Land real-estate firm, is considering a run for the District J seat held by openly gay Council Member Mike Laster, who is also term-limited.

Adriatico has been involved with the highly successful back-to-school backpack program in District J. He said he wants to focus on education, small business, and combatting domestic violence.

“If you have a voice, it can be magnified by serving in an elected office,” Adriatico said, adding that he watches the news every day and is troubled by what Trump is doing.

“I have friends who are minorities and immigrants,” said Adriatico, who would be among the first openly LGBT Asian-Americans elected to public office in Texas. “We’ve got to raise our voices and make a change.”

Watson is no longer the President of the Houston LGBT Political Caucus; she stepped down a few days ago, presumably in advance of announcing her candidacy. I could try to summarize the things she has done in recent years, but better for you to read this OutSmart profile and this Girls Like You And Me interview with her to see just how impressive she is. I know of at least one other person looking at this race, but Watson would be a formidable candidate if she does run.

As for Woods and Adriatico, I hope they have to wait till 2019 to actually run for Council, but I’m glad they’re thinking about it now, just in case. Let’s just say there’s more than a bit of anxiety about the possibility of a mad sprint for candidates this November. The other person mentioned in the story, the one who is already a candidate, is Jerry Simoneaux, who is among the Democratic judicial hopefuls. He’s running for Harris County Probate Court #1, and has a primary opponent. He also happens to be Watson’s law partner. There are a few non-Houston LGBT candidates in there as well. We’ll need to revisit the topic after the filing deadline.

Posted in: Election 2018, Election 2019.

Harris County will not enter SB4 litigation

Unfortunate.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday decided not to join a lawsuit against the state’s controversial sanctuary cities law.

A motion made by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis to move to join the lawsuit died after it failed to receive a second by another court member.

The move comes as pressure had been building for the county to join the lawsuit, which opponents of the state law — Senate Bill 4 — say is discriminatory against immigrant communities.

A number of public speakers Tuesday, including state legislators Sylvia Garcia and Armando Walle, asked the county to join the lawsuit.

“The law in my mind is unconstitutional and it’s in violation of human dignity,” Garcia, D-Houston.

Can’t say I’m surprised by this, but I am disappointed. The Observer adds on.

At the hearing, a group of Democratic lawmakers and activists backed Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis in asking the other four members, all Republicans, to vote to join the legal challenge.

“Over the last several weeks, I’ve heard widespread, almost unanimous opposition to SB 4,” said Ellis, a former state senator and the only person of color on the commissioners court, in a statement to the Observer. “Members of the Harris County delegation in the Legislature… and residents across Harris County asked us to join the lawsuit to overturn the new law.”

[…]

But County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican, said he was not persuaded.

“Don’t interpret, if we decide not to sue, that decision as an endorsement of SB 4,” he said after hearing the testimony, which lasted about 15 minutes.

“It is!” shouted someone in the audience. She called the commissioners “cowards,” and promised that she and others would campaign against those who chose not to sue. Police officers escorted her out of the room.

Emmett said SB 4 goes too far in “interfering” with local government, but said that doesn’t mean the county should sue.

Perhaps it doesn’t, as there are many other plaintiffs, but no second for Ellis’ motion is hardly a profile in courage for the Court. It would be nice to know, on the record, how this adversely affects the county. Can we be more specific about how SB4 “interferes” with our county’s government? Not in general or in theory, but how it is directly affecting us, the taxpayers and residents of Harris County. We say we’re not endorsing SB4 despite our lack of action. Let’s not give the impression of endorsing it by remaining silent. That is the least we can do. Stace has more.

UPDATE: Here’s the longer Chron story. Of interest:

A majority of the Commissioners Court said that despite their reservations about the law, which some described as an overreach by the state, joining the lawsuit could put the county on a slippery slope for lawsuits over an untold number of disagreeable state bills in the future.

“Were we to sue every bill that gets passed, I think that’s a dangerous precedent,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman, who, along with his three Republican colleagues, opposed joining the lawsuit.

[…]

Earlier in the week, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, a Democrat, filed a friend-of-the-court brief stating that the law would “irreparably harm” children in the state’s child welfare system.

“By mandating county attorneys cooperate in the enforcement of immigration laws – prioritizing immigration over other duties – SB4 creates an irreconcilable conflict between the priority given by our state to the preservation of the family,” the brief states.

[…]

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said he questioned whether the bill actually would increase distrust, and said the Harris County Attorney’s office had not recommended to him to join the lawsuit. He also offered a criticism of the law, which he said “basically circumvents authority in a police agency, like the sheriff, for example.”

In his brief, County Attorney Ryan said his office represents state officials who are bound to advocate for children’s best interest and keep families together. It goes on to say the law would deter immigrants from reporting abuse of children, volunteering to care for children or providing evidence in child abuse cases.

“Given that SB4 compels county attorneys to cooperate in efforts which will lead to the deportation of parents or kinship caregivers, the separation of families, and further trauma to children, the new law presents clear conflicts with federal and state child welfare laws, which require efforts to protect children and to maintain the unity of their families without regard to their immigration status,” the brief states.

Like I said, not exactly a profile in courage. Perhaps someone could sit Commissioner Morman down and explain to him that getting involved in this particular case does not create any obligations going forward. At least the amicus brief does state some of the harm from SB4 on the record. Clearly, that’s the best we’re going to get at this time.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters, Local politics.

MJ Hegar in CD31

Very cool.

MJ Hegar

In a Texas congressional district that includes one of the country’s largest military bases, a military hero is betting she can stage a political upset.

Air Force veteran MJ Hegar is launching a Democratic challenge against U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in Texas’ solidly red 31st Congressional District.

“I see a threat to our Constitution, our democracy,” Hegar said in a recent interview, “and I feel compelled to do something more about it.”

Hegar served three tours in Afghanistan as a search-and-rescue pilot, and in 2009, she saved the lives of her passengers after her medevac helicopter was shot down by the Taliban. She subsequently received the Purple Heart as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device.

She went on to become a fierce advocate for women in the military, helping lead a 2012 lawsuit against the Defense Department over its now-repealed policy excluding women from ground combat positions.

Hegar’s memoir, “Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front,” was published earlier this year and is being made into a film. Angelina Jolie is reportedly in talks to star in it.

Carter’s district has been reliably Republican, but Hegar, now an executive coach and consultant living in Austin, believes she can flip it, confident in her ability to garner crossover support with her experience at the national and international levels. She said her decision to run was partly motivated by the election of President Donald Trump, who has caused concern among even his own party’s national security professionals.

“I think being a Republican is not what it used to be,” Hegar said. “Even though [the district] is historically Republican, I think some people are voting Republican because they have a misperception of what the Democratic Party is.”

[…]

National Democrats are currently targeting three Republican incumbents in Texas that party leaders view as vulnerable: U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston, Will Hurd of Helotes and Pete Sessions of Dallas. Carter is not on that list, but Hegar is urging them to pay attention.

“Please look closer,” she said her message is to groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Three observations:

1. On paper at least, it’s hard to imagine a more appealing candidate. Military hero, young mother, former Republican, possibly being played by Angelina Jolie in a movie. I mean, if she didn’t actually exist I’d have sworn she was the figment of a Democratic strategist’s overactive imagination. What that translates into in an actual campaign remains to be seen, but I feel confident saying this will not be the only feature story written about her candidacy.

2. Not to be a buzzkill, but the reason the DCCC hadn’t given CD31 much thought is simply that it’s not terribly competitive. It only went 52-40 for Trump after going 59-38 for Romney, but it was 57-37 downballot, which was no change from 2012. Incumbent Rep. John Carter was re-elected 58-36 in 2016 and 61-35 in 2012. If anyone has the creds to win crossover votes it’s Hegar, but she has a lot of ground to cover, and who knows how many gettable Republicans there are in that district, or anywhere.

3. As the story notes, there are three other candidate seeking the Democratic nomination in CD31: fellow veteran Kent Lester; Dr. Christine Eady Mann, a family physician in Cedar Park; and Mike Clark, who was Carter’s opponent last year. Both the fact that there is a crowded field vying to run in this not-a-swing-district and the fact that there is a candidate with star potential like Hegar are further indicators of Democratic enthusiasm for 2018. I’ll put it to you this way: CD31 has existed since the 2002 election. This would be the first time in its history that it would have a contested Democratic primary, let alone a more-than-two-candidate race.

Hegar’s website is here, Kent Lester’s is here, Christine Eady Mann’s is here, and Mike Clark’s is here. We won’t see a finance report for Hegar till the end of the third quarter, but I’ll be very interested to see how she does. If she wants to get the DCCC’s attention, that’s one way to do it.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Who wants to give Greg Abbott power over their health insurance?

I sure don’t, but then I’m not the median voter in this state.

The Senate Republicans’ health care plan would give governors virtually unchecked discretion over health insurance plans. In red states with governors hostile to health care expansion, such as Texas, that could mean loss of coverage and skyrocketing costs for patients. Governor Greg Abbott would be able to determine what is covered in Texans’ health insurance, and how much they pay.

Nestled near the bottom of the Senate legislation is a provision that would allow governors and state insurance commissioners to waive health insurance requirements without the consent of the state’s legislative body. The bill would require federal officials to approve proposed changes as long as they don’t add to the deficit, even if they would result in price increases or coverage losses for constituents.

“It’s very easy to spend less on health care, you can cut benefits and save a lot of money,” said Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities. “It’s kind of shocking the degree to which this waiver includes no insurance standards. The state could submit a waiver without legislative approval, kick millions off their insurance and the federal government would have to approve it.”

These waivers could include allowing insurers to stop covering essential health benefits such as maternity care and emergency services, or getting rid of caps on out-of-pocket costs.

[…]

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report Monday that most of the people affected by these additional waivers would be in states that limit the health benefits insurers are required to cover. This would lead to lower premiums overall, but coverage for high-cost services like maternity care and mental health care “would become extremely expensive,” CBO said. The waivers could also allow states to use the federal funds for purposes outside health care, the agency notes.

Once the waiver is granted it can’t be taken back for several years, even if there’s evidence that a state egregiously misused its funds. Even if “state officials blow the Obamacare money on cocaine and hookers, there’s apparently nothing the federal government can do about it,” wrote University of Michigan Law School professor Nicholas Bagley.

This topic was discussed on a recent Slate podcast called the Trumpcare Tracker. As we know at this point, the Senate bill got pulled from consideration after a tidal wave of criticism, but there’s plenty of time for something nearly as hideous to achieve majority support. In the meantime, as we try to adjust to a universe in which Ted Cruz is attempting to play dealmaker, keep an eye on this. Abbott likes power, and he’s not nearly as susceptible to public opinion as some Republican Senators are. If we get to a point where this is a live possibility, nothing good will result from it.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Redistricting trial week begins

This will be the main event of the week.

Eight months ahead of the 2018 primaries, Texas and its legal foes on Monday will kick off a week-long trial that could shake up races across the state.

The state and minority rights groups have been squabbling for six years over new political district boundaries drawn following the 2010 census. As part of a long-winding legal battle, a panel of three federal judges this week will reconvene in a federal courthouse here to consider the validity of the state’s political maps and whether changes should quickly be made to the state’s House and Congressional boundaries ahead of the midterm elections. At issue is whether the current boundaries violate the voting rights of millions of Texans of color.

The showdown comes months after the panel of judges found fault with the state’s 2011 drafts of the political maps. In a pair of rulings this spring, the judges also found that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in crafting them.

Those rulings did not require an immediate remedy because the state has been running elections since 2013 under court-drawn maps that were crafted amid an election scramble and later adopted by the Legislature.

But the judges are now turning their attention to the existing boundaries.

There’s an overview of how we got here and what is at stake in that story and also in this Statesman story, which notes the time factor:

Don’t expect immediate gratification. When the trial closes Friday or Saturday, the judges will take the matter under advisement — though a written ruling is expected relatively quickly as the court labors under looming election deadlines.

State officials have advised the court that any new maps would have to be ready by around Oct. 1 to meet deadlines for setting precinct lines and to allow candidate filing for the 2018 primaries to begin, as scheduled, in mid-November. Complicating the timing will be the inevitable appeal that the losing side will make directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If new maps are needed, the judges likely will order additional input on how to redraw district boundaries, lawyers said Friday.

The maps in question are the Congressional and State House maps that were implemented in 2013. Those maps in turn are basically identical to the interim maps created in 2011 after preclearance was rejected; the Lege adopted them with a couple of tweaks. The state claims that since the current maps are based on ones that had been drawn by the court, they cannot be discriminatory. The plaintiffs note that the 2013 maps differ only a little from the 2011 maps, which were ruled to be discriminatory, and that many of the problematic elements of the 2011 maps exist in the same form in the 2013 maps. The trial this week is to answer the question whether the existing maps are discriminatory, and if so what should replace them and also should the state be bailed back into preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. This Brennan Center article explains it better than I just did, with more details.

Here’s the Trib Day One story. A couple of highlights:

With Texas becoming less white each day, lawyers for minority rights groups opened their push for new maps by parsing the state’s demographic growth, which shows that the population of eligible white voters has significantly declined since 2010.

When asked by federal district Judge Orlando Garcia how this relates to the 2013 maps, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus’ lawyer, Jose Garza, indicated it was proof that Texans of color don’t have proportional representation under the maps currently in place.

“Even today … minorities are underrepresented when measured against population data and population figures,” Garza said.

MALC also presented an alternative map to demonstrate that the state House boundaries could have been drawn in a way that minimized the slicing of municipalities and created additional “opportunity districts” where minority voters are able to select their preferred candidates.

Creating that type of district was not a legislative priority when the House took on redistricting in 2013; lawmakers only made “cosmetic changes” that didn’t “improve the overall map for minority opportunity,” former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer testified before the court.

In 2011, state lawmakers drew legislative and congressional maps following the 2010 census, but they were immediately challenged in court on the basis that they diluted the voting strength of Hispanic and black voters. The court drew interim maps amid an election scramble, and the Legislature in 2013 moved to adopt them.

Martinez Fischer argued that efforts to improve those maps for minority representation were rebuffed by the Republican majority.

“It was almost all upon deaf ears,” Martinez Fischer said.

All the plaintiffs’ briefs for the trial can be found here. The demonstration map mentioned in the story for the State House is H391, and C285 is for Congress, with the former drawn by MALC and the latter by MALC, LULAC, and the Perez plaintiffs. There more of these – go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/, choose a Shaded Plan, change the Category to All, and scroll down. The last maps listed for each type will be the ones being shown in the trial. Michael Li of the Brennan Center is live-tweeting the trial, so follow along with him for the play-by-play. I’ll do my best to keep up as well.

Posted in: Legal matters.

First finance reports for Congressional challengers start coming in

From the inbox:

Democratic candidate and nonprofit leader Alex Triantaphyllis announced he raised over $450,000 from more than 1,100 contributors since his entrance into the race for Texas’s 7th Congressional District. He will report over $400,000 cash on hand entering the third quarter of 2017. In just eight weeks of fundraising, Triantaphyllis nearly matched nine-term Congressman John Culberson’s best quarter across the incumbent’s 30-year career as a politician. The majority of contributions to Triantaphyllis’s campaign were $100 or less.

“We are thrilled by the outpouring of support for our campaign that we have seen from the start,” Triantaphyllis said. “In addition to the encouragement from community members, this strong, early financial support provides the foundation to build a grassroots campaign that connects with every voter in every neighborhood in Texas’s 7th Congressional District. The 7th district deserves a representative who will create jobs, make families safer and stronger, and engage with community members to address the goals and challenges that they identify.”

I’m expecting a few more press releases like that to come in. It’s a well known way to distinguish oneself in a large field of candidates like what we have in CD07. There are many angles one can take with these announcements – raw totals, cash on hand, number of contributors, average amount per contributor, percentage of contributions in the district or in the state, etc etc etc. If there’s something worth touting, it will be touted. If there isn’t, there probably won’t be a press release. Yes, I know, money isn’t everything – we have this same conversation every time there’s a finance report deadline worth mentioning – but not having it seldom helps.

Meanwhile, up in Dallas:

Democratic Party candidates for the 32nd Congressional District aren’t having any problems raising campaign cash.

Ed Meier, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton and the interim CEO of a Dallas nonprofit, raised a blistering $345,000 in just under two months. Meier’s campaign has $300,000 on hand, according to totals provided by his spokesman.

“I’m proud to start this campaign by building a broad base of support that we will continue to grow from now through election day,” Meier said in a statement. “From the conversations I’ve had with people across this community, one thing is clear: People want a leader who will stand up for Texas families and hold [Donald] Trump accountable, instead of one who enables Trump’s reckless agenda. That’s why they’re calling for a change and I’m glad to have their support.”

Meier got into the race in May. The second-quarter fundraising period was from April to June 30.

His opponent in the March Democratic Party primary, Dallas civil rights lawyer Colin Allred, raised $200,000 during the second-quarter fundraising period. His campaign aides say 71 percent of the money came from Texans.

The Democrats are vying for the chance to run against incumbent Republican Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.

Despite the hefty fundraising totals, the Democrats aren’t yet approaching the amount of money Sessions has access to. His campaign manager said Thursday that the longtime congressman has more than $900,000 on hand. Sessions’ full campaign finance report was not immediately available. Campaign finance reports aren’t due until July 15.

Note that Rep. Sessions didn’t have a specific rebuttal at this time. He may still be totting up his numbers, or he may not have anything too noteworthy to report. We should have a clearer picture by this time next week.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Who gets the VW settlement money?

That’s the fifty million dollar question.

Volkswagen faces billions of dollars in fines in Texas for its admitted cheating on emissions tests, but the potential payday is being held up as the state Attorney General and county officials fight in court over which government agencies will get to claim a share of the proceeds from the German auto giant.

Under Texas law, county governments are entitled to half the award that any legal action against Volkswagen brings – with the remainder going to state coffers. But with more than 20 counties suing Volkswagen in the aftermath of the emissions scandal, Attorney General Ken Paxton is attempting to toss out all but two of the counties from the case, leaving the state in charge and the counties with no chance to claim any of the penalties.

The stakes are high for both the state and counties. A single county could reap tens of millions of dollars in penalties, at a time when low oil and gas prices are straining budgets across Texas and leading to cuts in public services.

“It’s extremely important for the counties. We’re all strapped,” said Anthony Constant, a Corpus Christi attorney representing Dallas and other counties in the suit. “I have no idea what (the AG’s office) is doing or why they’re doing it, but it appears to me they have some concern it would somehow be bad for them if the counties were allowed (to) proceed.”

The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment. But in a filing earlier this year, Paxton argued that it was their office’s right to uphold Texas’ environmental laws and allowing the county lawsuits to proceed would lead to “the unconstitutional result” of Volkswagen being tried and fined multiple times for the same violation.

[…]

In Texas, the company settled violations of the state’s anti-fraud laws for $50 million in November. But Volkswagen still faces far more costly violations of the state’s air pollution laws, which could potentially mean fines of between $50 and $5,000 per day for all 32,000 of its clean diesel vehicles registered in Texas. Some, which were sold under both the Volkswagen and Audi brands, have been on the road close to a decade.

But the process of determining the extent of those penalties is being held up by the infighting between the state and counties over who gets to sue Volkswagen.

After the trial court in Austin ruled the counties could remain in the case, the attorney general’s office filed an appeal in October with the Texas Third Court of Appeals. Sensing an opening, Volkswagen’s attorneys filed a motion to delay the entire trial until the question of the county lawsuits was resolved.

With the matter of the county lawsuits potentially headed to the Supreme Court – a process that can take years – the state and counties’ attorneys both argued against delaying the trial. But in January the appellate court sided with Volkswagen.

See here, here, and here for the background. This settlement is from state-level litigation; there was a separate federal lawsuit settlement that netted money for the state, as only the state was involved. As the story notes, Harris and Fort Bend Counties filed their lawsuits first, then the state got involved, and subsequently tried to boot all the counties out as plaintiffs. I personally see no reason for that, but this is what the judge will have to decide.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Special session officially set

Brace yourselves, it starts next week.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a declaration for a special session of the Texas Legislature Monday, formally inviting lawmakers back to Austin to pass “sunset legislation” that will keep several key state agencies open.

The long-awaited procedural move allows lawmakers to begin filing bills for the special session set to begin on July 18.

In addition to the formal declaration, Abbott also released a draft version of 19 additional items he plans to add to the special session agenda later on. Last month, Abbott announced that lawmakers would consider 20 total legislative items during the special session.

[…]

Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw said her office received a copy of the proclamation around 11:00 a.m., which she forwarded to senators to alert them that they could begin filing bills. A physical copy of the proclamation was also delivered to senators’ offices in the Capitol building. Senators began filing bills Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile the House, which has had an e-filing system in place for years, received over two dozen bills before 1 p.m.

Robert Haney, the House chief clerk, said the first bill filed Monday, House Bill 41 from state Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, was received at 11:42 a.m. The bill aims to change how the state calculates the constitutional spending limit, which restricts how much the budget can grow from one biennium to the next.

Within an hour, dozens of other bills were filed including two pieces of bathroom-related legislation from state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton. HB 46 would forbid “political subdivisions, including a public school district” from adopting or enforcing measures to “protect a class of persons from discrimination” in regulating “access to multi-occupancy restrooms, showers or changing facilities.” HB 50 is identical except applying only to a school district board.

See here and here for the background. Special sessions are limited to the agenda the governor sets. That has never stopped anyone from filing bills on whatever other subjects they wanted, some good, some bad, and some utterly pointless, because you never know when the governor may exercise his power to add to that agenda. The real question for this session is what happens when some number of Abbott’s bills don’t get passed – indeed, don’t even get a vote. “Sunset and sine die” may be the battle cry, but nothing would stop Abbott from calling everyone right back, as Rick Perry did in the past. How much is enough for Abbott? We’re about to find out.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Anti-spousal benefits plaintiffs ask for injunction

Ridiculous.

Conservative activists are seeking an injunction blocking Houston from paying same-sex spousal benefits to its municipal employees, after Texas’ Supreme Court ruled last week that gay couples may not be entitled to them.

Attorneys filed a motion Friday in District Court in Harris County, which includes Houston.

They also want to recover public funds that America’s fourth-largest city spent on same-sex spousal benefits since November 2013, though how much such “clawbacks” would be worth is unclear.

See here for the background. I looked for a more detailed version of this story, which hit on Friday afternoon, but couldn’t find one. The Supreme Court decision, ludicrous as it was, merely reinstated the plaintiffs’ lawsuit after it had been dismissed, saying there were questions to be addressed. To argue for an injunction – with clawbacks, no less – is an enormous stretch. The animus radiating from this action is so strong it must be giving Justice Kennedy a migraine. I don’t know how this could possibly go anywhere, but then I thought this was a settled matter back when the Supreme Court initially declined to gt involved. I don’t know what to think any more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Judicial Conduct commission suspends JP Hilary Green

Bam!

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued an order to suspend Harris County Justice of the Peace Hilary Green from office immediately based on allegations that Green illegally abused prescription drugs, sent sexually explicit texts to a bailiff while on the bench and paid for sex.

It’s the first time any Texas judge has received a temporary suspension in at least a decade in a contested matter, the commission says.

The state supreme court had been asked to take the unusual emergency action by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which in May presented a 316-page document in support of an immediate suspension. That document summarized evidence it had collected in its own investigations of previously secret complaints made against Green from 2012 to 2015.

The commission alleged that in its own closed proceedings, Green already had admitted to many allegations against her, including illegally obtaining prescription drugs and using marijuana and Ecstasy while she was presiding over low-level drug possession cases involving juveniles in her south Houston courtroom.

One of the most serious allegations, the commission says, is that Green engaged her “assigned bailiff in an effort to illegally obtain prescription drugs.”

The commission argued that the evidence — and Green’s own admissions — more than justified Green’s immediate removal from her post as a jurist for Harris County Precinct 7, Place 1 while the state watchdog agency prepared for a longer civil trial required under Texas law to remove Green — or any judge — from elected office.

“Judge Green’s outright betrayal of the public’s trust warrants her immediate suspension pending formal proceedings,” the commission had argued.

Green’s attorney, Chip Babcock, argued in a response to the supreme court that voters themselves had a chance to review and “forgive” many of the commission’s allegations, some of which were published in Houston Chronicle stories, before they chose to re-elect Green in 2017.

See here for the background, with the warning that the more you read the more you will want to take a shower afterwards. While a lot of this information was known before the 2016 primary, I’d argue that most, though not all, of it was allegations of behavior that was merely tawdry rather than illegal. As such, I disagree with attorney Babcock that the voters had a chance to “review and forgive” the record. But even if one believes that the voters were sufficiently informed, I don’t see how that mitigates against this suspension or the potential subsequent removal from office. Elections have consequences, but so does criminal behavior. If the Commission votes to remove Judge Green, she can appeal as the process allows, but appealing to the voters as a defense will fall flat to me.

Posted in: Scandalized!.