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Last day of early voting is today

EarlyVoting

Early voting for the primary runoffs is going on right now, but today is the last day for it. See here for the locations – the time is 7 AM to 7 PM – and take advantage of your last chance to vote early. You can of course vote on Tuesday, May 24, at a precinct location – but be aware that many precinct locations will be combined and consolidated, as this is a low-turnout affair. Democratic precinct locations for Runoff Day on May 24 are here, and Republican locations are here. Don’t just assume you can show up at your usual place, or even the place you voted in March. There’s a good chance you will be wrong about that. Check first, then vote.

Remember that you can vote in the runoffs even if you did not vote in a primary. If you did vote in a primary, you may only vote in that party’s runoff, but if you did not vote in March you may choose either, just as you could have chosen either in March. As I said in the first paragraph, turnout has been modest so far. Here are the daily totals through Thursday. A grand total of 40,484 votes have been cast, with 17,305 on the Democratic side and 23,179 for the GOP. Note that in each case, nearly 2/3 of the vote so far has been by mail. Only 6,597 Dems and 8,212 Republicans have voted in person. Given that, I think Stan Stanart’s pre-voting prediction of 50K for the Rs is going to miss by a lot, but we’ll see. The last day of early voting is always the heaviest. Have you voted yet? My wife and I stopped at West Gray on the way home from work yesterday. It was quite dead – there were maybe three other voters there with us, and no doubt thanks to the rain, only three people in the parking lot handing out push cards. What was it like when you voted?

Posted in: Election 2016.

Paxton asks the feds if they’re sure about that bathroom thing

Just checking, I’m sure.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Will public schools really lose federal education funding if they refuse to comply with a new Obama administration directive regarding transgender students?

That’s the basic query posed by top lawyers from Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia in a letter sent Tuesday to the U.S. Justice and Education departments seeking clarification on the directive, which advises the nation’s public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The guidance, issued Friday by those agencies, came days after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for the resignation of the Fort Worth ISD superintendent for implementing similar rules designed to help educators abide by an updated nondiscrimination policy.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has already threatened legal action over the directive, which does not have the force of law but seeks to clarify how federal agencies may interpret relevant statutes and an entity’s compliance.

In Tuesday’s letter, Paxton and the two other state attorneys general ask whether entities receiving federal funding must “follow this ‘significant guidance’ in order to be in compliance with Title IX” — the federal law governing gender equity in education — “and/or entitled to continued receipt of federal funding?”

“Do circumstances exist in which you would consider a school still in compliance with Title IX despite non-compliance with these guidelines?” the letter asks. “If so, please describe those circumstances and whether you would take steps to recoup or end federal funding.”

Texas receives more than $5 billion per year in federal education funding, which it uses for free-and-reduced lunch and other programs designed to help needy children.

Last week, Patrick said he was willing to forgo that money and urged Texas superintendents to resist pressure from the federal government to follow the directive.

See here, here, and here for the background. I can’t imagine Paxton will get the answer he wants to hear, so I assume this is just laying groundwork for the threatened litigation. The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

Posted in: Legal matters, School days.

Turner reiterates the need to rethink transportation

New audience, same theme.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston’s transportation future – and perhaps its economic vitality – relies on more options than new freeway lanes to make room for more cars, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Tuesday.

“The solution is to increasingly take advantage of other modes of travel,” Turner told business and elected leaders at a lunch event hosted by Transportation Advocacy Group – Houston Region.

The mayor, who has talked about a transportation “paradigm shift” since taking office in January, mentioned a laundry list of mobility projects that Houston must embrace, ranging from regional commuter rail to improved pedestrian access.

Nothing by itself can abate Houston’s growing congestion, the mayor acknowledged, but together the options could reform how people travel. Also, he favors a better balance of state and federal transportation funding, which heavily supports highways over public transit in the region.

“We will have to make choices on how to use limited space on streets to move people faster,” Turner said, noting that nine out of 10 working residents in the area rely on their own vehicle to get to and from work.

Houston today – and in the future – is a far different place than the one its highways initially served. Rather than a development pattern focused solely on downtown, Houston is an assortment of small, concentrated job and housing centers. Turner said the city’s transportation should reflect that by offering walkable solutions and local streets capable of handling the traffic in places such as the Texas Medical Center and Energy Corridor.

“We can connect the centers together with regional transit,” Turner said. “We need to focus our limited funding in these areas.”

[…]

As mobility options increase, the mayor said it will be up to officials to focus attention where certain transportation solutions can do the most good and ignite the least political furor.

“I will not force light rail on any community that does not want it. I will not do it,” Turner said. “We must stop trying to force it on places that do not want it and give it to neighborhoods and people in this city who want it.”

Minutes after his speech concluded, listeners were already dissecting the mayor’s statement on light rail and its obvious reference to the decadelong discussion of a proposed east-west rail line along Richmond Avenue to the Galleria area.

See here for thoughts expressed by Mayor Turner to the Texas Transportation Commission in February. I wouldn’t read too much into that comment about “forcing” rail into places that don’t want it. For one thing, the opposition to the Universities line has always been loud, but there’s never been any evidence that it’s broad. The evidence we do have suggests there’s plenty of support for that line in the neighborhoods where it would run. In addition, recent remarks by Turner-appointed Metro Chair Carrin Patman suggest the Universities line is still on the agenda. Perhaps there’s a disconnect between the two – in the end, I can’t see Metro putting forth an updated rail referendum that includes the Universities line over Mayor Turner’s objection – but I doubt it. I would just not read too much into that one statement without any corroborating evidence. Houston Tomorrow, which has video and a partial transcript of Mayor Turner’s remarks, has more.

Beyond that, this is good to hear, and even better to hear more than once. The reality is that as with things like water and energy, there is only so much room to add new road capacity, and it starts getting prohibitively expensive, in straight dollar costs as well as in opportunity costs, to add it. It’s far cheaper to conserve the capacity that we already have, which in the case of transportation means getting more people to use fewer cars. I talked about all this at the start of the Mayoral race last year, and I’m heartened to see that Mayor Turner’s priorities have been in line with many of the things I was hoping for. A lot of this talk still needs to be translated into action, but you can’t have the action without the talk first, to make people aware of the issues and get them on board with the solutions. The Mayor has done a good job of that so far, and it’s great to see.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

High speed rail opponents pick up another Congressional ally

Welcome aboard, Smokey Joe.

In a filing with the Surface Transportation Board, North Texas Congressman Joe Barton (R) Arlington has come out against a high speed rail project between Dallas and Houston.

Barton, whose district encompasses parts of Tarrant County and the city of Arlington that supports Texas Central Railway’s high speed rail line, claims that Ellis and Navarro counties in his district will be dissected.

Barton, who in the filing dated May 9, 2016 said that while he generally supports private investment in high speed rail projects, voiced that the project would not be economically feasible or necessary. He claims that inexpensive air travel is available between Dallas and Houston and there are few delays on I-45 between the two major regions.

In his letter to the STB Congressman Barton said that county and state roads would be closed off if the rail line is built and that few jobs would be created in construction of the 240 mile rail line.

“Congressman Barton obviously has been getting bad information from his staff on this project because the Texas Central website has a whole different story,” according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. “It’s a shame that a Congressman who champions private investment would be so misinformed.”

You can see Barton’s letter here. Barton is not the first member of Congress to come out against the high speed rail line; Rep. Kevin Brady was already there. And if you’re wondering what the Surface Transportation Board is, there you go.

Barton’s letter came a couple of days after TCR formally asked the STB to get involved.

Developers of Texas’ high-speed train have asked the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to confirm it has oversight of the project, bringing it in line with the nation’s other major passenger and freight railroads.

Texas Central recently filed a formal petition to the STB, asking that the agency affirm its jurisdiction over the project and to weigh in on critical next steps that will include construction and operation of the passenger link between North Texas and Houston, with a midway stop in the Brazos Valley.

Texas Central is required to seek STB certification of the project, thus complying with the federal regulatory process that all newly constructed rail lines must follow. Links here and here to the two STB filings.

This request does not seek to remove protections afforded to landowners under Texas law. It merely clarifies the STB procedures that Texas Central must follow and does not change or override any state landowner protections.

The STB will not issue a final decision until the environmental review is completed but Texas Central asked the board to issue an interim order as soon as practicable.

[…]

The STB requires a project to outline its goals and objectives so that the agency can consider its role. Texas Central’s petition explains that Texas high-speed rail meets the conditions needed to gain STB jurisdiction, similar to other passenger and freight railroads in the country. Among the factors supporting Texas Central:

* It is a transportation infrastructure project of national importance, providing “a safe, reliable, convenient and environmentally friendly travel option.”

* The Texas route – between two major commercial hubs – fills a gap in existing passenger service and significantly adds to the country’s general passenger railway network.

* Its planned passenger stations – in Dallas, Houston and Grimes County – are designed to enhance local and interstate transportation connections.

A draft environmental impact statement from the FRA, which began work on that last year, is expected this summer. There will be more hearings on the proposed routes after that, with construction aimed to begin in late 2017, although Texas Central has suggested the timeline may slip into 2018. Assuming this happens at all, which if the opponents keep piling up powerful allies may be in doubt. I’m still mostly optimistic, but there sure are a lot of obstacles out there, and in the end it may only take one.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 16

The Texas Progressive Alliance would like for everyone to be able to pee in peace as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Abbott comments on Austin rideshare referendum

Sort of.

Uber

Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday the fight is not finished when it comes to regulations in Austin that have driven ride-hailing companies out of the state capital.

“The issue’s not over,” Abbott said in an interview on CNBC. “Republicans in the Texas Legislature have already raised proposals coming up in the next session to override the Austin vote.”

Pressed on whether ride-hailing companies Lyft or Uber would return to Austin, Abbott said: “I’d just say the game is not over. It’s halftime, and we’ll see what happens in the second half.”

Lyft

[…]

In the CNBC interview, Abbott was read a tweet from venture capitalist Paul Graham that said “Austin has zero chance of being a serious startup hub without Uber and Lyft.” Abbott denied that, saying the city is “already a dynamic startup hub.”

“That process has already left the barn, as we say in the state of Texas, and there’s nothing that will slow it down,” Abbott said. “And the dynamics that’s causing Austin to be a startup hub are already in place and will not be diminished by” the Proposition 1 vote.

As we know, legislation has already been proposed to enact statewide ridesharing regulations, though whether such a bill (if it passed in the first place) would include fingerprinting requirements or not remains an open question. Normally, one doesn’t have to parse Greg Abbott’s words closely, but I can’t tell from this story where he really stands. Is this a priority for him? Is he anti-fingerprints? Unclear at this time. I’m not sure if that’s because Republicans are not of one mind when it comes to fingerprinting, and Abbott wants to see how the wind is blowing before he commits himself, or if it was just a vague question asked by an idiot CNBC host that wasn’t designed to elicit a specific answer. In any event, Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t have to single this out as a priority to get a bill to pass, but if they do it increases the likelihood of it happening.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, That's our Lege.

TEA Commissioner has no opinion yet on federal transgender bathroom directive

Noted for the record.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Tuesday praised the state Supreme Court’s recent opinion upholding the state’s public school funding system and demurred on questions about bathroom use by transgender students.

“Last time I checked, it was a free country,” Morath said in a wide-ranging interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith when asked whether Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s efforts to overturn a policy in Forth Worth allowing transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity clashed with Morath’s belief in the importance of local control.

The issue erupted last week when the Obama administration ordered every public school in the nation to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

[…]

But the Texas Education Agency is still reviewing the federal directive, Morath said Tuesday, contending that it was too soon for him to weigh in on the issue.

“Until we have a clear sense of our options, it’s just not appropriate for me to comment,” he said.

Not very illuminating. I’ll take him at his word about not having fully reviewed the federal directive, but that’s a temporary excuse. To be fair, if Dan Patrick shoves a potty package check bill down everyone’s throat, then Mike Morath’s opinion of the federal missive matters not at all. Still, it would be nice to know just what kind of person Mike Maroth is. Please have an answer ready the next time someone asks you about this, sir.

Posted in: School days.

Trash subsidy will not be trashed

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

After weighing the budgetary impact and obtaining input from City Council, Mayor Sylvester Turner has decided not to pursue elimination of subsidies to homeowners associations that opt out of City trash collection services.

Under the program, which began in the 1970s, the City pays a monthly $6 per household subsidy to homeowners associations that contract for more expensive trash collection service from private haulers. Elimination of the subsidy was predicted to save the City $3.5 million annually, but only if the homeowners groups stuck with their private haulers.

“Many of the neighborhood associations have indicated they will request City collection if the subsidy is abandoned,” said Mayor Turner. “As a result, we are now looking at increased costs as opposed to the savings that had originally been anticipated. Therefore, it no longer makes sense to pursue this at this time. We can balance the budget without it.”

Elimination of the trash subsidy was one of several options put forth to help close a projected $160 million budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1. City Council will consider the budget on May 25, a full month earlier than normal. Mayor Turner has requested early approval to send a strong message to the credit rating agencies about the attention the City’s fiscal challenges are getting from City Hall.

See here for the background. I was rooting for this to be killed, but if the numbers say it will cost more than it will save, then so be it. That doesn’t mean we can’t plan to phase it out over the next few years, however. I’d like to see that on the table going forward. The Chron story has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

HISD finishes renaming schools

From last week:

Eight names that have adorned Houston school buildings, uniforms and yearbooks for decades will vanish next year after trustees came together Thursday to approve new ones without Confederate ties.

The renaming decisions followed months of controversy that had split the school board, heightened racial tensions, and fueled mixed reactions from parents, students and alumni. Before the votes Thursday, however, the four trustees who initially opposed the renaming process, criticizing the lack of community input, said they would back away from their resistance; in some cases, they abstained.

“Let’s come together and take this energy and really steer it toward our students,” said trustee Greg Meyers, who previously opposed the renaming items. “We’ll get past this. No matter what the name, it’s what happens inside.”

The new names will take effect in the fall. Reagan High School will become Heights High after its neighborhood. Davis High similarly will change to Northside High. Lee High will take the name of former longtime educator Margaret Long Wisdom.

Johnston Middle will become Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School. Jackson Middle will turn into Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence, after the late East End civic leader. Dowling Middle will take the name of Audrey H. Lawson, after the late charter school founder and first lady of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.

Lanier Middle will swap only its first name to honor former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier instead of Sidney Lanier, a poet who had served as a private in the Confederate Army.

The board voted in March to change Grady Middle School to Tanglewood.

See here and here for the background. My feelings about this haven’t changed since I wrote that second post. I feel confident that in due time, most people will forget this ever happened. It would have been a much better process if HISD had taken the time to put forth a statement of principles and standards for this process and solicited public input to make recommendations for the Board to consider; as John Nova Lomax has written on more than one occasion, the choice of schools to be renamed – or not, as in the case of Mirabeau B. Lamar High School – and the selection of substitute names has been haphazard and uneven, which is a big part of the reason this was as controversial as it was. There’s no reason why HISD can’t do this as a review process, if it wants to. I’ll understand if everyone is just happy to be done with this, but at the very least, we should make sure we know what we’re doing if we ever decide to do it again. In the meantime, I hope that the threatened legal action over these name changes does not come about. The Press has more.

Posted in: School days.

No indies

Not in Texas and not for President, anyway.

Will not be on the ballot

Will not be on the ballot

[Last] Monday was the deadline for independent candidates for president to get on the ballot in Texas.

Nobody showed up.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office, which administers elections, closed its doors Monday afternoon with no applications. And they would have noticed, too: Independent candidates have to submit their names along with petitions from 79,939 registered voters who, like the candidates themselves, did not take part in either the Republican or Democratic primaries.

That’s a pile of paper.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s imminent nomination as the Republican Party’s candidate for president, there has been some chatter in conservative ranks about a third-party candidate more palatable to the GOP establishment.

It’s getting late for that. The general election is in six months, and state deadlines for filing are starting to come up on the calendar.

As the story notes, a would-be independent candidate could possibly sue to get on Texas’ ballot, following the example of John Anderson in 1980. That presumes that such a candidate exists and has the wherewithal to file and successfully argue a lawsuit. And that presumes that such a candidate would want to be on the ballot in Texas, which if one is aiming to be the “not Trump alternative that unhappy conservatives can support” one probably does. (Mark Cuban has already declined to be that candidate.) Time’s a-wastin’, that’s all I’m saying. One can also file as an official write-in candidate, which is to say a write-in candidate whose votes actually get counted, but one should keep one’s expectations low if one chooses that path. The high-water mark for a write-in candidate in any Presidential race going back to 1992 is 9,159 votes in 2004 by Ralph Nader, and it’s fair to say he was better known than your average write-in would be. It was also worth 0.12% of the vote, so just a little bit short of a majority. But hey, dream big.

Posted in: The making of the President.

SCOTUS punts on birth control lawsuit

Wow.

Zubik v. Burwell was supposed to be an epic showdown over the power of religious objectors to limit the rights of others. A sequel to the Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Zubik involved regulations expanding women’s access to birth control that the conservative justices appeared to endorse in Hobby Lobby — even as they struck down a more direct method of providing contraceptive coverage to working women.

At oral arguments, however, the four remaining conservatives seemed to have a change of heart. Even Justice Anthony Kennedy, the justice who signaled the loudest in Hobby Lobby that he would tolerate the kind of regulations at issue in Zubik, appeared openly hostile towards the Obama administration’s arguments. The case seemed to be barreling towards a 4-4 non-decision. If conservative Justice Antonin Scalia had not died last February, it is all but certain that the case would have ended in a crushing defeat for the administration and for many women who hoped to benefit from the administration’s birth control rules.

But that’s not going to happen — at least not yet. On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a brief, three-page opinion that effectively punts the case until next year at the earliest (and, presumably, after someone has been confirmed to fill Justice Scalia’s seat). The opinion explicitly “expresses no view on the merits” of Zubik and a raft of related cases. Instead, it sends these cases back down to the lower courts to consider the views expressed by both parties in supplemental briefing requested by the justices themselves.

[…]

As the Supreme Court notes in Monday’s opinion, the administration “has confirmed that the challenged procedures ‘for employers with insured plans could be modified to operate in the manner posited in the Court’s order while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly, together with the rest of their health coverage.’” However, that’s not the end of the story. The administration also explained to the Court that the justices’ proposed compromise may not work for employers that self-insure (that is, employers who pay out health claims directly to employees rather than joining them into a broader insurance pool).

In any event, the one thing that’s absolutely clear from the Court’s very brief, unsigned opinion inZubik is that it will not resolve any of the nuances of how employers should exempt themselves, what should happen to women who seek birth control after an employer exempts itself, and whether self-insurance or other situations present unique problems that call for a distinct rule. The Court wants this case to go away, at least for now.

See here for the background. This is just amazing. SCOTUSBlog provides some further analysis:

One reading of Monday’s developments was that the Court, now functioning with eight Justices, was having difficulty composing a majority in support of a definite decision on the legal questions. Thus, what emerged had all of the appearance of a compromise meant to help generate majority support among the Justices. With this approach, the Court both achieved the practical results of letting the government go forward to provide the contraceptive benefits and freeing the non-profits of any risk of penalties, even though neither side has any idea — at present — what the ultimate legal outcome will be and, therefore, what their legal rights actually are under the mandate.

Those uncertainties are now likely to linger through the remainder of President Obama’s term in office, which ends next January. The appeals courts may well order the filing of new legal briefs, and may hold new hearings, before issuing a new round of rulings on the controversy. However, the entire future of the ACA, including its birth-control mandate, may now depend upon who wins the presidential election this year and which party has control of Congress when it reassembles in 2017.

The three issues that the Court had agreed to rule on, and then left hanging at least for now, were whether the ACA mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring religious non-profits that object to contraceptives to notify the government of that position, whether the government had a “compelling interest” in assuring cost-free access to contraceptives, and whether the move by the government to go ahead and arrange access to those benefits for those non-profits’ employees and students was the “least restrictive means” to carry out the mandate.

Doing on Monday much the same that it had done in several temporary orders at earlier stages of this controversy, the Court accepted that the non-profits already had given the federal government sufficient notice of their objection to the mandate, and that the government could use that notice as the basis for going ahead to provide actual access, at no cost, to the employees and students of those institutions.

The unsigned opinion that the Chief Justice announced included an attempt to explain why the Court was bypassing a definitive ruling on the legal issues. It cited the replies that both sides had filed, after the cases had been argued, in reaction to a suggested compromise plan devised by the Court.

The Court on Monday interpreted those filings as containing concessions that move the two sides somewhat closer together, but at the least provided a basis for letting the federal appeals courts be the first to analyze the meaning and impact of those concessions. The Court expressed the hope that the two sides would use this new opportunity, in the appeals courts, to work toward common ground that would protect the religious sensibilities of the non-profit institutions at the same time that women of child-bearing age would not be deprived of contraceptive devices and methods.

“We anticipate,” the Court said, “that the courts of appeals will allow the parties sufficient time to resolve any outstanding issues between them.” That appeared to be an invitation for the lower courts at least to explore whether the two sides could reach agreement without prolonging the court battles. It conceded, though, that there may still be “areas of disagreement” between the two sides.

It may just be my cynicism showing, but I don’t expect any of the litigants to go seeking common ground. This was from the beginning an ideological fight, and they’re not going to settle for anything less than victory. As the Trib noted, the district court in Texas originally found for the plaintiffs, HBU and East Texas Baptist University, but the Fifth Circuit overturned that verdict. I have no idea what happens from here, but I look forward to a Supreme Court with either a Justice Merrick Garland or a President Clinton-named Justice getting the case again in the future. TPM, Dahlia Lithwick, Rewire, and Daily Kos have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Overview of the Harris County GOP Chair runoff

This is the Republican runoff I’m most interested in.

vote-button

Two years after wresting control of the Harris County Republican Party, Paul Simpson is facing an unexpected runoff challenge from political newcomer Rick Ramos in a race that again pits establishment fiscal conservatives against a group of socially minded GOP kingmakers.

Simpson finished second with 39 percent of the vote in March’s three-way primary, as Ramos and political novice Tex Christopher – neither of whom reported raising a penny – earned the remainder.

Caught off guard, several party activists and deep-pocketed donors have mobilized behind Simpson, as Ramos has leaned on the support of a trio of local power players: Steve Hotze, Gary Polland and Terry Lowry.

Both candidates painted the outcome of the low-profile race as crucial for the party’s future in Harris County, which recently swung majority-Democratic, according to Rice University’s Kinder Institute.

“We are a battleground county,” Simpson, a 61-year-old energy lawyer, said during a recent interview in his downtown office. “So, the only way we can keep Republican leadership in place is to be an effective party, and we weren’t for a long time.”

Ramos, a 45-year-old family lawyer, said the party needs to broaden its appeal among minority voters and get more involved in social policy fights.

“For the Republican Party to be able to go forward … we have to have more diversity. We have to be able to reach out to communities at large within our own county, and what worked 20 years ago, 30 years ago for the Republican Party is not going to work in the immediate future,” Ramos said. “I think we have to be more proactive, more innovative, and really give the party somewhat of a face-lift.”

The down-ballot race drew scarcely any attention amid the Super Tuesday hubbub, when about two-thirds of the Republican voters cast ballots for party chair.

Little appears to have changed ahead of the May 24 runoff, for which Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he expects just 50,000 Republican voters to turn out.

I was going to cast aspersions on Stanart’s estimate of GOP runoff turnout, partly because he so comically mis-estimated March turnout and partly because as is the case on the Dem side there’s not really anything to drive runoff turnout, but there were 40,547 GOP primary runoff votes in 2008, when there was even less to push people to the polls, so given that 50K seems quite reasonable. (The 2012 runoffs, which were all about Cruz v. Dewhurst for Senate, are not a viable comparison.) I don’t have anything to add to this story, as I don’t know the combatants and have no stake in the outcome, but like many people I was caught off guard by the March result and have been waiting for a Chron story on the race. This one does answer some of my questions, and it offers the hint of continued GOP infighting after whoever gets elected, which is always nice to contemplate. Beyond that, I’ll leave it to those who will vote in this race to offer up their thoughts on it.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Lawsuit filed over Uber/Lyft referendum language

Oh, for crying out loud.

Uber

Attorney Martin Harry filed a lawsuit — a draft of it was obtained by the American-Statesman — in Travis County state district court late Tuesday contesting the election’s outcome, alleging that the city violated election law by combining what should have been two ballot questions into one.

“I don’t think the voters knew what they were voting on,” said Harry, who is representing himself in the case.

He said voters should have been asked first whether they would like to keep or reject the city’s controversial 2015 ordinance and then whether they accepted Uber and Lyft’s replacement language. He also alleges that the ballot language drafted by the city staff did not match the instructions given by the City Council.

“While we are disappointed to be involved in litigation regarding last week’s election, and would rather be working with companies to help them provide safe and efficient transportation services, we are prepared to defend the lawsuit,” city Law Department spokesman Bryce Bencivengo said.

Lyft

The lawsuit left Austin-based election lawyer Buck Wood stunned.

“I truly have never seen anything like this in my 40-plus years of doing election law,” said Wood, who reviewed a copy of the draft complaint for the Statesman. “I don’t think the court has any jurisdiction to throw it out on the ballot language.”

He added, “I don’t think he’s got a lawsuit here.”

Harry’s lawsuit asks a court to block the city from enforcing the ordinance that the City Council approved in December — which requires fingerprint-based background checks of drivers with ride-hailing apps, among other measures — unless another election is held.

I don’t care about any of the legalistic argle-bargle here. I just have one simple question: Is there a sentient human being anywhere on the planet who was unaware during the leadup to this election that a Yes vote on Prop 1 is what Uber and Lyft wanted, and that a No vote on Prop 1 is what Uber and Lyft did not want? The millions of dollars that Uber and Lyft spent on this election – which by the way included a number of phony claims about Prop 1 – all carried the message of “vote Yes on Prop 1”. That in a nutshell is what this race was about, and as such it is all anyone needed to know. If this lawsuit goes anywhere, it will be an utter travesty.

Posted in: Election 2016, Legal matters, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Early voting for primary runoffs begins today

From the Inbox:

EarlyVoting

“The Primary election season is not over. There are several important races that remain to be decided by voters, locally and statewide,” stated Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart whilereminding voters that the Early Voting period for the May 24, 2016, Democratic Party and Republican Party Runoffs Elections begin Monday, May 16 and runs through Friday, May 20.

There will be forty-four Early Voting locations available to Harris County voters.  Voters are strongly encouraged to visit www.HarrisVotes.com and review the Early Voting schedule before heading to a voting location, especially voters residing in areas impacted by recent flooding. “Bear Creek and Glen Cheek locations are unavailable due to the April floods.  Voters near Bear Creek Park Community Center may vote at Lone Star College. Voters near Glen Cheek Education Building may vote at Harris County MUD 81”,asserted Stanart, the chief election officer of the County.  Additionally, there are two new Early Voting  locations, Fallbrook Church to support voters northwest of I-45 and Beltway 8, and SPJST Lodge #88 to support voters near the Memorial Park/Heights area.

To obtain a detailed early voting schedule, a personal sample ballot, election day polling locations, or a list of acceptable forms of photo identification required to vote in person, voters may call 713.755.6965 or visit www.HarrisVotes.com. During the abbreviated Early Voting period, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7pm.

“Aside from knowing where to vote, there are important guidelines voters should be aware of before voting in a Primary Runoff,” added Stanart. “March 1 Primary voters must vote in the same party’s Primary Runoff Election.  Voter may not cross-over between the Primary and the Primary Runoff ElectionEligible voters who did not vote in March may vote in either political party’s Primary Runoff Election, but not both.”

The Harris County Primary Runoff election ballot for Democrats includes twelve contests and for Republicans, six.   Democratic Primary Runoff Election voters will nominate candidates for Railroad Commission, State Board of Education District 6, State Representative District 139, the 11th, 61st and 215th Judicial District Courts, Sheriff, Justice of the Peace Precincts 1 and 7, and Constable Precincts 2 and 3. Plus, voters in Voting Precinct 398 will determine their chairman. Republican Primary Runoff Election voters will nominate candidates for U.S. Representative District 18, Railroad Commissioner, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2 and 5, and State Representative District 128. In addition, Republicans will choose the leader (Chairman) of the Harris County Republican Party.

“I encourage every eligible voter to do their homework and then go vote early. Remember, during early voting, a voter can vote at any one of the early voting sites. In contrast, on Election Day, voters must vote at a designated polling location,” concluded Stanart.  

###

Harris County, TX – Early Voting Locations
May 24, 2016 Democratic Party and Republican Party Primary Runoff Elections
Location Address City Zip
Acres Home Multi Service Center 6719 W. Montgomery Houston 77091
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Alvin D. Baggett Community Center (*) 1302 Keene St. Galena Park 77547
Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library 22248 Aldine Westfield Rd Humble 77338
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Houston 77074
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
Champion Forest Baptist Church – Multi Purpose Bldg 4840 Strack Road Houston 77069
Champion Life Centre 3031 FM 2920 Road Spring 77388
City of Jersey Village 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
Fallbrook Church (*) 12512 Walters Rd Houston 77014
Fiesta Mart, Inc. 8130 Kirby Houston 77054
Franz Road County Annex 19818 Franz Road Katy 77449
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
H.C.C.S Southeast 6960 Rustic, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston, 1st Floor Houston 77002
Harris County MUD 81 (*) 805 Hidden Canyon Rd Katy 77450
Harris County Public Health Environmental Service 2223 West Loop S Houston 77027
Hiram Clarke MSC 3810 W. Fuqua Houston 77045
John Phelps Courthouse 101 S Richey St Pasadena 77506
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Kashmere Multi-Service Center 4802 Lockwood Dr. Houston 77026
Kingwood Branch Library 4400 Bens View Lane Kingwood 77345
Kyle Chapman Courthouse Annex 7330 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Lone Star College – Atascocita Center 15903 W. Lake Houston Parkway Houston 77044
Lone Star College – Creekside 8747 W New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
Lone Star College – Cypress Center (*) 19710 Clay Rd Katy 77449
Lone Star College – Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Metropolitan Multi-Service Center 1475 West Gray Houston 77019
Moody Park 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
North Channel Branch Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Northeast Multi-Service Center 9720 Spaulding St, Bldg #4 Houston 77016
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Palm Center 5300 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Prairie View A&M University – Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Richard & Meg Weekley 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Ripley House 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
SPJST Lodge #88 (*) 1435 Beall St Houston 77008
Sunnyside Multi-Service Center 4605 Wilmington Houston 77051
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042

Posted in: Election 2016.

Patman shares her vision for Metro

I like what I’m hearing from new Metro Board Chair Carrin Patman.

HoustonMetro

A regional transportation plan is critical, Patman said, because it allows everyone to establish what transit and transportation officials should be doing. Everyone, including counties and cities not part of Metro today, needs to be part of the dialogue and outline needs from new roads to new transit offerings, she said.

“You have to have their input into the transportation plan,” Patman said of the suburban communities. “That’s the only way you are going to develop something broader.”

Part of having that regional conversation is to chart a course for improving transit and possibly adding to it. Though construction is a long way off, Patman said the 2003 referendum approved by voters remains the playbook.

And yes, that includes a Westpark corridor, whatever that may entail. The University Line light rail project is the biggest sticking point between transit skeptics, notably U.S. Rep. John Culberson who represents western Houston and supporters of light rail expansion.

“We definitely need a link between downtown and the Galleria,” Patman said. “We will look at any means we can get that connectivity and any route we can get there.”

The Uptown dedicated bus lanes, which Patman also supports, could be a catalyst for making that connection, and show off an alternative to light rail that could be considered with frequent, dedicated buses.

“We are going to look at all sources of funding,” Patman said, noting her personal interest in possibly expanding public-private partnerships. “But my best prediction is, yes, we will have to go back to the voters and ask for more bonding authority.”

I swear to you, I am still working on a set of posts outlining my own vision for Metro and where I’d like to see it go over the next few years. With all the other stuff going on, it’s been hard to carve out the time to do this writing, but I’ll get there. Some of the things Patman discusses in this story are on my list as well, especially the shift to a broader, more regional approach to transit and transportation. It’s also good to see rail expansion being brought up, but I see that as being a little farther out. If there’s one thing I hope we’ve all learned from past Metro experience, it’s that lack of communication from them is a killer. They need to constantly engage with a wide range of stakeholders or anything they want to do becomes much harder to achieve. The Gilbert Garcia board got a lot done, and along the way repaired a lot of relationships with other agencies, various government entities, and the public. One of Patman’s jobs is to build on that so the rest of what she envisions becomes possible. I wish her all the best. KUHF and Write On Metro have more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Texas tobacco litigation, 20 years later

Interesting look at something I don’t think about very much.

Twenty years ago, then-Texas Attorney General Dan Morales filed a federal lawsuit accusing the tobacco industry of racketeering and fraud. He said the case would make Big Tobacco change how it did business, force the cigarette companies to make less dangerous products and stop the industry from marketing to teenagers.

The lawsuit, he contended, would require the tobacco companies to fork over billions and billions of dollars, which would be used to reimburse the state of Texas for smoking-related Medicaid costs and fund anti-smoking programs.

“This was the most important health-related litigation in history,” says former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore. “Cigarette smoking was the No. 1 cause of death in the entire world.” He adds, “There will never be a case this big or this important ever again.”

Two decades later, legal experts remain divided over whether to label the Texas litigation a success.

The Texas state treasury pocketed billions of dollars from the litigation, though only pennies on the dollars won in the case went to smoking-cessation efforts. Teen smoking plummeted, but cigarettes are just as addictive and dangerous. The tobacco companies are more profitable than ever. The trial lawyers representing Morales got filthy rich.

As for Morales, he married a former exotic dancer, lost his bid for governor and eventually went to federal prison following a scandal involving misused campaign funds.

“The litigation exposed the tobacco industry’s lies, dramatically reduced teen smoking and resulted in limits in cigarette advertising,” says Matt Myers, general counsel for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “But it is far short of meeting the objectives. We didn’t change the industry’s conduct at all. The product is no safer.”

[…]

In January 1998, the Texas lawsuit settled on the eve of trial for a record $15.3 billion. It’s the largest settlement of a single case in U.S. history.

“The tobacco companies were looking for peace and it was absolutely the right time for the state to push for a settlement,” says Houston trial lawyer Richard Mithoff.

Mithoff represented Harris County in demanding that the cigarette makers also make payments to counties in the state for their smoking-related health care costs.

Mithoff’s efforts, combined with a clever “most favored nation’s” clause that Potter and the state’s outside lawyers included in the Texas settlement agreement, led Big Tobacco to fork over an additional $2.3 billion in July 1998, which increased the overall Texas settlement to $17.6 billion.

The cigarette makers have paid Texas $10.2 billion so far and make annual payments of about $490 million to the state, according to court records.

To pay for the settlement and lawyers’ fees, tobacco companies increased the price of cigarettes by $1.40 per pack, which impacted cash-strapped teenagers the most. As a result, teen smoking plummeted. Surveys showed that nearly 36 percent of teens smoked in 1996, but only 12 percent of them do today.

Myers and others point out that Texas budgeted only $10.2 million, or 2 percent of the $490 million payment to be used for anti-smoking efforts in 2016. At the same time, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says that the tobacco companies will spend an estimated $630 million on marketing their products in Texas.

The public health group says the annual health care costs for treating sick smokers in Texas will be $8.8 billion this year.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. To me, the single most important thing about this is captured in that sentence about teen smoking rates dropping from 36% to 12% over the past 20 years. The overall impact on public health from that is enormous, well more than enough to outweigh any concerns about what this litigation did or didn’t do. We also now know that increasing the price of a pack of smokes is the single bets way to deter kids from buying them, which has informed our public policy since then; you may recall that a $1-a-pack increase on the cigarette tax was a part of the 2006 property tax reduction deal that resulted from the previous school finance lawsuit. Bottom line, this did a lot of good even if it never did (or, in the case of making “safer” cigarettes, never could have) done all that we were told it would do. I do wonder if we would have even attempted to do something like this if it had happened later in Texas’ political history. John Cornyn became AG in 1998, then Greg Abbott in 2002. Would either of them have pursued this litigation? Maybe Cornyn would have, at least at that time, but I can’t see Greg Abbott giving a damn about it. So count me as being glad that Texas Democrats were still able to win statewide in 1994. Who knows how many more people would be smoking today if Dan Morales hadn’t driven this litigation back then?

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

We’re going to get more big rain storms

Better get used to it.

The weather is getting worse, says one expert.

Torrential rains fall in the Houston area more often than they used to, according to an unpublished analysis from state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

Heavy precipitation of any particular magnitude are twice as likely to fall in the Bayou City today as they were in the early 20th Century. Downpours that struck every two years back then come every year on average now. Deluges that used to drop each 100, 500 or 1000 years should fall more frequently as well.

Nielsen-Gammon, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University who was appointed state climatologist by Gov. George W. Bush in 2000, reviewed data from rainfall gauges across the state, some with records dating to the late 19th Century. For Harris County, he drew from 17 gauges.

“We’ve confirmed that there’s an overall increase in extreme rainfall in Texas over the past century,” he said. “Specifically for Houston the increase has been particularly large.”

[…]

An independent analysis of local rainfall data from the National Weather Service also confirmed the state climatologist’s findings. Of the 100 rainiest days in Houston since 1890, as measured at multiple gauge sites, the wettest of the wet are skewed dramatically towards the last four decades.

You can see the charts and graphs and stuff at the story link. If you’re saying to yourself “weren’t we worried just a few years ago that we’d dry out and turns to dust from lack of rain?”, the answer is yes, and the reason is because we’re getting fewer rain events with more rain in them. Fewer rainstorms, in other words, but more of the storms we do get are big, and they’re more likely to come in groups rather than be spread out more or less evenly over time. Isn’t that awesome? But don’t worry, climate change is still a myth propagated by liberals, so we don’t have anything to worry about and we surely don’t have to change any of our habits in any way.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Weekend link dump for May 15

“The 500-euro note, the bill of choice for many criminals looking to transfer large amounts of money without the authorities knowing, is being eliminated.”

“Among all these classes of professionals, all these institutions, that whole superstructure of US politics built around two balanced sides, there will be a tidal pull to normalize this election, to make it Coca-Cola versus Pepsi instead of Coca-Cola versus sewer water.”

“Right now, a small group of committed people are intent on changing the world. It’s going to take a large group of thoughtful, committed citizens to stop them.”

“Maybe the lesson here is to beware the TED-talk version of development economics. Shortening the time it takes to incorporate a small business is not a substitute for deeper institutional reforms, such as those that support investment in human and physical capital, remove economic barriers that hold back women and ethnic or religious minorities, or improve transportation, power, and sanitation infrastructure.”

What Norm Ornstein says.

Have a look at the Panama Papers for yourself.

“How could anyone ban such a neat book as The Six Bunny-Wunnies Freak Out?”

All hail the bison, America’s official mammal.

Clearly, Sen. Thune doesn’t get enough cat videos in his Facebook feed.

On doing sex work to finance law school.

No matter how bad things may get, you can always console yourself with the knowledge that you don’t have to live in a sea cucumber’s anus to survive.

A cool story about famous cat cartoonist B. Kliban.

Good for Google, dumping ads from payday lenders.

I’m not sure why I’m surprised to learn that Donald Trump’s butler is a lousy person, but I am.

“But when people are forced to stop taking the subway because our systems are literally on fire, they’re not going to use a hyperloop to get to work. They’re going to be getting in cars.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Federal action on schools accommodating transgender bathroom use

Glad to see this.

The Obama administration is planning to issue a sweeping directive telling every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.

A letter to school districts will go out Friday, adding to a highly charged debate over transgender rights in the middle of the administration’s legal fight with North Carolina over the issue. The declaration — signed by Justice and Education department officials — will describe what schools should do to ensure that none of their students are discriminated against.

It does not have the force of law, but it contains an implicit threat: Schools that do not abide by the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or a loss of federal aid.

The move is certain to draw fresh criticism, particularly from Republicans, that the federal government is wading into local matters and imposing its own values on communities across the country that may not agree. It represents the latest example of the Obama administration using a combination of policies, lawsuits and public statements to change the civil rights landscape for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people.

After supporting the rights of gay people to marry, allowing them to serve openly in the military and prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against them, the administration is wading into the battle over bathrooms and siding with transgender people.

“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus,” John B. King Jr., the secretary of the Department of Education, said in a statement. “We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”

Courts have not settled the question of whether the nation’s sex discrimination laws apply in matters of gender identity. But administration officials, emboldened by a federal appeals court ruling in Virginia last month, think they have the upper hand. This week, the Justice Department and North Carolina sued each other over a state law that restricts access to bathrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms. The letter to school districts had been in the works for months, Justice Department officials said.

“A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so,” according to the letter, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times.

The timing of this was propitious or provocative, depending on one’s perspective. As expected, Republicans here completely lost their minds over this, even though it didn’t actually represent a change in policy, just a reminder of what was already policy, which has gained prominence due to the bathroom obsession that is now gripping so many in the GOP. (On a side note: If, as some of our Republican leaders are now whining, it is meddling for the federal government to intervene like this, then what was it when Dan Patrick demanded that a local school superintendent be fired? “Local control”, indeed.) I am certain that a lawsuit will follow, and that’s fine. It’s time to establish some precedents.

The US Department of Education laid out its policy here, and I know this sounds crazy, but it might be a good idea to read it and understand it before making any accusations about what it does and doesn’t say. It also might be a good idea to read about Nancy Sims’ experience about becoming the mother of a transgender child. It’s people like Nancy’s daughter that people like Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz are so afraid of. Honestly, I hope that one of these children confronts Dan Patrick and asks him “Why are you afraid of me? Why do you hate me?” It won’t have any effect on him, of course, but it might change the conversation the rest of us are having. Daily Kos, TransGriot, the Austin Chronicle, the Press, and Think Progress have more.

Posted in: School days.

Harris County crime lab experiencing DNA testing backlog

These things do happen.

I want one of these

Never miss a chance to embed the DNA Robot

Expanded testing for property crimes has helped create a backlog of more than 4,600 DNA cases in the Harris County crime lab, straining its ability to complete the processing of such evidence for sexual assaults and even homicide cases in a timely manner.

Officials with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences say a relentless uptick in property crime, robbery and assault cases has stretched the lab’s resources. The spikes can be traced in part to the lab’s own push in recent years to expand its forensic operations and offer law enforcement agencies more DNA testing for property crimes.

The lab serves more than 60 law enforcement agencies, which rely on it to process DNA evidence as part of criminal investigations. Officials are particularly concerned about how the backlog has affected sexual assault cases, which they’ve pledged to make a priority as the cases have recently taken longer to finish.

Sexual assault cases took on average of 172 days to complete in 2015, far from the county’s 60-day goal and the roughly 60 to 90 days that they took from 2009 to 2013 The average for homicides and death investigations is now 238 days, though it is more difficult to set a benchmark in such cases because evidence often comes in piecemeal over time.

The backlog – defined by county lab officials as containing any case that has not been completed – has set off a debate over how to prioritize DNA testing in the short term and handle lesser offenses such as property crimes in the long term.

[…]

[Crime Lab Director Roger] Kahn said the lab already has essentially halted analyses of DNA in some property crimes. Last July, the institute said it would suspend “touch DNA” analysis – such as testing for microscopic skin cells containing DNA that naturally rub off on objects – for almost all property crimes.

The moves have contributed to a drop in the number of sexual assault cases that take more than 60 days to complete: after reaching 252 in January, that number was 148 last month, Kahn said.

He stressed that the high numbers are also in part because of new protocols to reanalyze some cases that have samples containing multiple people’s DNA. These, he said, can often be the most complex cases.

All this being said, Kahn acknowledged that the turnaround times are too high.

He said lab officials are looking at halting some analyses of assault and robbery cases. The lab is also planning to work with sexual assault nurse examiners to better identify samples to analyze in such cases, and is weighing other possible workflow improvements.

For their part, county commissioners on Tuesday approved the crime lab’s move to apply for a National Institute of Justice grant of more than $645,000 that would help its DNA division – the Forensic Genetic Laboratory – reduce the backlog. It has applied for and received the same grant since 2005.

Commissioners also approved a roughly $100,000 contract to outsource some property-crime testing to a private company, Bode Cellmark Forensics, an uncommon move but one that the county has made in the past.

[…]

It’s unclear what will happen to property crime cases, and possibly robbery and assault cases, that the county crime lab may set aside to focus on sexual assaults and homicides. Kahn said the lab works closely with law enforcement and the district attorney’s office to prioritize cases, even those involving property crimes.

At Wednesday’s meeting, District Attorney Devon Anderson questioned whether the lab should be making decisions of what types of cases to prioritize.

Sheriff Ron Hickman said telling the public that the county lab had the technology to solve crimes, but couldn’t use it because of lack of resources, would not “play well.”

“How do you get to say, ‘No?'” Hickman said.

Kahn said the current focus is on sexual assault cases. Then lab officials, with other public officials, will determine how best to use the lab’s resources.

There’s a lot there and I don’t want to make too big a deal over it. Both DA Anderson and Sheriff Hickman raise good questions, for which they deserve better answers than “we’ll figure it out later”. If this is a matter of resources, then Commissioners Court needs to address that. The County Crime Lab serves multiple cities in addition to the county, so it’s not just their own business that’s being affected.

We can’t discuss the Harris County crime lab without mentioning the Houston lab and the ongoing debate over whether the two should merge. I’ve noted before that there are questions about how the county handles crime lab issues and how the city’s needs would be accounted for. This situation highlights those concerns. As the story notes, the city’s crime lab has its own backlog issues, though they are smaller and seem to be on track towards resolution. I’m just pointing this out to note that there are questions to answer before anything can go forward. If you want this to go forward, which is certainly a reasonable thing, those questions need to be addressed. It’s not insurmountable, but it’s not nothing and shouldn’t be treated as nothing.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

New methane rules finalized

Gentlemen, start your lawyers.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday issued its final rule for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

The rule limits methane emissions from new oil and gas infrastructure and requires operators to submit to semi-annual or quarterly monitoring, depending on the type of operation. In addition, the agency took another step toward drafting a rule that would apply to existing oil and gas operations.

“They will help keep the nation on track to help the us cut emissions from the oil and gas sector,” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said on a call with reporters Thursday. The new rule will reduce emissions by 11 million tons per year of CO2 equivalent by 2025, she said.

The Obama administration has a goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. Natural gas is 80 percent methane, while oil extraction processes also often release methane trapped underground. In 2012, 30 percent of the country’s methane emissions came from oil and gas operations.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, trapping heat 86 times more effectively than CO2 over a 20-year span, so leaking methane can be a huge problem. While natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, leaks in the system can eliminate the climate benefits. Scientists have found that in the United States, methane leaks and venting have nullified any emissions benefit from transitioning the electricity sector from coal- to natural gas-fired power plants. In fact, the EPA recently found that the problem of escaping methane is even worse than initially feared. The United States currently gets a third of its electricity from natural gas, up from 24 percent in 2010.

[…]

There are, though, two key changes from the initial draft rule the EPA published last year that environmentalists welcomed. Under the new rule, natural gas compressors will be subject to quarterly monitoring — twice as often as under the proposal. In addition, low-production wells will be included in the rule. In its fact sheet, the agency credited the changes to the more than 9,000 public comments it received after the draft rule was published.

See here and here for some background. We all know what comes next, and we know it’s not over till the Supreme Court says it is. So sit back, pop open a cold one, and wait for the legal action to begin. Daily Kos and the Trib have more.

Posted in: National news.

George Scott holds on in Katy ISD race

Every vote matters, y’all.

George Scott

George Scott

A longtime critic of the Katy Independent School District has ousted a 27-year incumbent from the board of trustees, winning by three votes out of nearly 3,000 cast, according to unofficial total results announced Friday.

Conservative blogger George Scott received 1475 votes to Trustee Joe Adams’ 1,472 votes, district officials said Friday. The final tally came six days after election day results left the Position 1 race too close to call.

Results will become official when the seven-member board canvasses them at a meeting Wednesday. Scott would be sworn in at the May 23 board meeting, along with Trustee Rebecca Fox, who was re-elected earlier this month.

Scott’s victory signals a major shift for the district. Adams is a widely recognized figure in the Katy area and has served on the board of directors for the Texas Association of School Boards.

A former media liaison for the Harris County Appraisal District and past publisher of The Katy Times newspaper, Scott has for years questioned the board’s fiscal decisions, transparency to the public and deference to Superintendent Alton Frailey, who is retiring this summer.

Scott contended that trustees became too influenced by Frailey and hadn’t held him sufficiently accountable. He criticized the district’s push for a $62.5 million stadium, a project that still divides the community because of its price tag. It is now being built alongside an existing one and is set to open next year.

In challenging Adams, Scott suggested that the incumbent had become complacent. Scott said voters heard that message.

“I’ve been a very strong critic, but my goal is to try and work with the other board members,” Scott, 66, said Thursday, a day before the final results were announced. “Can we agree that the district can do a better job with communication to the media and public? Can we hold the superintendent more accountable? I want those talks to be professional.”

Scott was ahead by seven votes with 14 provisional ballots to review and the possibility of overseas ballots still to come. Adams would have needed to net eight votes, which would be an 11-3 win on provisionals if they all counted. In the end, eight of those ballots were counted and Adams won them 6-2, but pending any recounts, Scott wins by a nose.

Covering Katy, which provided the details on the provisional ballots, also provides a peek at how first-time candidate Scott ousted the nine-term incumbent.

Even though it was a very close election, it was not easy to beat a man who has been re-elected nine times in a row. Scott won by running “a flawless campaign,” according to supporter A.D. Muller, who has worked as an advisor on numerous campaigns in Katy, including Scott’s campaign.

“I’ve never seen a Katy school board race with zero mistakes until this one, and I’ve never seen such an unconventional race as Scott has run this year,” Muller said.

Among the unconventional tactics Scott used was spending no money on campaign signs, until the very end of the campaign. Instead, Scott spent all of his advertising budget with Covering Katy during much of the campaign. Later in the campaign he also used direct mail.

“People thought I was crazy, but I know everyone reads Covering Katy,” Scott said. “I did not have a big budget. My choice was buy yard signs or buy a great advertising position on Covering Katy. The decision to go digital instead of traditional was a no-brainer for me. I had to constantly tell my supporters to trust me. They thought I was crazy because no one had ever run a successful campaign without yard signs,” Scott said.

“I didn’t buy a single campaign sign until the very end when a supporter said he’d donate to my campaign if the money was used for yard signs, so I bought some signs,” Scott said. Otherwise, he said he would not have purchased any signs.

Weather played in Scotts favor too. When the recent flooding hit Katy it spiked Covering Katy’s page views, meaning Scott’s advertisement was seen nearly 800,000 times in the last four weeks of the campaign.

Meanwhile, Joe Adams ignored Covering Katy. He would not provide a phone number or email address to be contacted for stories on the election. He never personally responded to any requests for interviews or comments.

Scott recognized Adams’ mistake and saw an opening. He provided Covering Katy with a barrage of big name endorsements, which bought him credibility with many Katy newcomers who didn’t know his background as a former member of the Harris County Hospital District, a staffer with the Harris County Appraisal District and the former owner of The Katy News.

Scott also quietly made amends with people he’d criticized on his blog George Scott Reports. Known for his slash and burn commentaries, Scott criticized people on all ends of the political spectrum. At the start of the campaign he needed to know if those he criticized would turn against him during the campaign. He visited with them and was surprised to find almost every person said they’d support him, some key people even endorsed his campaign publicly.

“At times during this campaign I’ve wondered what did I do to deserve this type of support after being so critical of these folks over the years,” Scott said. “I told them I’d understand if they told me no, but they all felt I’d do a good job on the school board and pledged their support. I’ve been supported by a lot of good people, and I appreciate what they’ve done for this campaign,” Scott said.

There’s more, and it’s worth the read. Small campaigns like this are just different than large ones, and there’s nothing that substitutes for personal contact from a candidate, which you can do much more easily in a campaign of that scale. I know a few campaign professionals who are nodding their heads vigorously at the bit about not spending money on yard signs. Anyway, as someone who appreciated George’s writing on property tax issues, I’m glad to see he won. Congratulations, and best of luck with the new gig.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Saturday video break: I’ve Seen All Good People/Your Move

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs take on a typically tricky Yes staple:

I love Susanna Hoffs’ voice, and I love her interpretation of this song. You should definitely check out her various collections of covers with Sweet, called “Under The Covers”, volumes one through (I believe) three, with each focusing on a specific decade, starting with the 60s. Note the comments on the YouTube page for this; lots of people thought the degree of difficulty for this song was too high, but they were more than pleasantly surprised to see S&H pull this off. A live recording of them doing a shorter version of this is here, if you’re interested.

And here’s Yes:

I am so glad that this kind of live concert footage exists from the pre-MTV/YoTube days. For those of us who never got to see a band like Yes in their prime, it’s amazing to be able to experience it virtually now.

Posted in: Music.

Supreme Court upholds school finance system

I’m stunned.

BagOfMoney

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued a ruling upholding the state’s public school funding system as constitutional, while asserting it could be better.

“Our Byzantine school funding ‘system’ is undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement. But it satisfies minimum constitutional requirements,” Justice Don Willett wrote in the court’s 100-page opinion, which asserted that the court’s “lenient standard of review in this policy-laden area counsels modesty.”

“The judicial role is not to second-guess whether our system is optimal, but whether it is constitutional,” the ruling said.

It is the first time the state has won a school finance case. Justices Eva Guzman and Jeff Boyd delivered concurring opinions.

I haven’t had the time to review this, and it may take me a couple of days to do so. The immediate reaction I have is that the Supremes are saying it sucks, but not badly enough for them to do something about it this time. One wonders where the bar is, not that it does any good right now. I’ve posted an analysis that was forwarded to me in email beneath the fold. In the meantime, there are two things I know: One is that the Legislature is not going to spend any time on school finance this session, and two is that nothing will change until we elect different leaders. I don’t know what else to say. A statement from Mayor (and former State Rep.) Sylvester Turner is here, and the Rivard Report, the Observer, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Legal matters.

Castro says he’s not been vetted for VP

So much for that, it would seem.

Mayor Julian Castro

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro said Tuesday that, despite all the speculation that he’s being considered to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate, he hasn’t been vetted by the Democratic front-runner’s campaign.

Castro, who endorsed Clinton last year, was asked by CNN’s Brooke Baldwin if he would accept a spot on Clinton’s presidential ticket and replied, “That’s not going to happen.”

When asked if he had been vetted, or contacted by the Clinton campaign, he said, “I am not … I haven’t heard from anyone.”

Ever since he gave a well-received speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, Castro has been buzzed about as a potential vice presidential pick in 2016.

[…]

Castro has been coy about the vice presidential buzz, telling Baldwin that he’s “going to be back in Texas next year,” a line he has repeated over the past few months.

Well, we could use someone to run for Governor in 2018, and that would offer the opportunity to beef up the ol’ resume, so perhaps this is for the best. There’s been a lot of buzz, going back to 2013, so let this be a lesson in just how much buzz means sometimes. Not that this will cause Castro’s name to be taken off the “also being considered” lists that every story about potential VP picks must include, but at least now you have some idea of how seriously to take them. In the meantime, perhaps we could hear a bit more about Labor Secretary Tom Perez? Thanks.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Sheriff primary runoff overview

Unless you live in HD139, this is the most consequential runoff on the Democratic ballot.

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

[Ed] Gonzalez has drawn heavy support from the Democratic establishment, including former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and the Harris County chapter of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats. [Jerome] Moore’s supporters include the Houston COGIC political action committee, which supports candidates who share its values.

Both Gonzalez and Moore have called for greater transparency at the sheriff’s office and pledged to personally, regularly, inspect the department’s jail, which has come under repeated scrutiny in recent months. A Houston Chronicle investigation of the jail found extensive problems ranging from patterns of use of force by guards to poor medical care for inmates.

Gonzalez, 47, touts his 15 years as a Houston police officer and his work on the Houston City Council, where he chaired the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

“I’m think I’m uniquely qualified to be the next sheriff,” Gonzalez said. “I’m the only one with combined law enforcement experience … and I have the proven leadership skills.”

Gonzalez has argued for more oversight in the jail as well as broader education and training programs for inmates to help lower the number of repeat offenders.

[…]

Moore, 42, who worked as a deputy for the Harris County Precinct 5 Constable’s Office for 16 years and previously for the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, said he wants to take “more than 600 crooks” off the streets and touts the supervisory experience he gained as a lieutenant at Precinct 5.

Like Gonzalez, he called management of the county jail as a top priority for the next sheriff, as well as taking a more community focused approach to policing.

“Too many people are dying in that jail,” he said, citing the recent case of a man beaten to death while in jail on a minor theft charge. “We’ve got to do better in the jail … Right now, we don’t have accountability in that jail.”

My interview with Ed Gonzalez is here and with Jerome Moore is here. To the extent that endorsements affect one’s decision about whom to support in a race, I would point out the COGIC PAC’s endorsements from the 2015 elections. Whether one believes that this is going to be a great year for Democrats in Harris County or another Presidential cycle where the base vote is evenly split and the quality of individual candidates is the difference-maker, the winner of this runoff has an excellent chance to be the next Sheriff. Let’s make a good choice.

Posted in: Election 2016.

So far, so good for Mayor Turner

That’s the general consensus of his first four-plus months in office.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Faced with a $160 million budget shortfall that would leave some wringing their hands until deadline day, Mayor Sylvester Turner presented his plan a month ahead of schedule. The proposal being reviewed by City Council includes a few one-off gimmicks, by Turner’s own admission, but would close Houston’s budget gap without huge layoffs or service cuts.

Four months into the job he dreamed of for a quarter century, the former lawmaker has eschewed the traditional pressure to sprint into office with a laundry list of policy objectives. Instead, Turner has concentrated primarily on formulating next year’s budget, the first of several fiscal hurdles.

Turner’s bet? Hitting targets such as next-day pothole repair and balancing the budget early will earn him the political capital to take on Houston’s longer-term problems, namely rising pension and debt costs.

Eager for unity in that process, Turner has kept his goals broad – for which he has drawn some criticism – and invested in bettering mayor-City Council relations, laying the groundwork for a first term built on corralling Houstonians around the painful task of shoring up city finances.

“We resolve the pension issue, we get the revenue cap removed, we satisfy Moody, S&P and Fitch, the credit rating agencies, oil prices start to go back up, this city will take off,” Turner said during a recent interview, laughing at the apparent simplicity of his plan.

[…]

A creature of the state Legislature, which starts slowly and builds toward the end, Turner has approached the mayor’s office with a similar rhythm, Houston lobbyist Robert Miller said.

“Those who are saying he’s not moving quickly enough or are not satisfied with the progress are missing that he knows exactly what he wants to do, and he knows exactly the timing in which he wants to do it,” Miller said. “The most important issue he had to deal with was the budget, and he’s doing that. … Then you will see him begin rolling out the other initiatives and personnel changes that he thinks need to occur.”

There’s not a whole lot in the story that will come as a surprise. As I said when writing about Mayor Turner’s State of the City address, he has stuck very closely to the things he spoke about on the campaign trail. A big part of his strategy to achieve some of the goals he has laid out is to build trust by getting certain things done first so that the tougher items can be done later, when everyone feels comfortable that he’s doing what he said he would do. One of the metrics to watch for is the amount of dissent and pushback he gets from Council members. On that score, there’s so far been very little – no public criticism of his budget proposals, no challenge to his standing firm against Uber’s ultimatum, no complaints about how his office handled flooding issues. Those things will come because they always do, but until then the harmony we’ve had so far is at least an indicator that everyone feels like they’ve been listened to. Whatever else you think, that’s a big accomplishment.

Posted in: Local politics.

Friday random ten: In the city, part 10

New York, New York, so nice they said it twice…

1. New York State Of Mind – Billy Joel
2. New York State Of Mind – Rowlf the Dog
3. New York, New York – Big Daddy
4. The Night Chicago Died – Paper Lace
5. Nutbush City Limits – Ike & Tina Turner
6. Odessa/La Filamena – The Mollys
7. Oh Atlanta – Little Feat
8. Old Woman From Wexford – Flying Fish Sailors
9. Olympia – Jon Anderson
10. Opelousas (Sweet Relief) – Maria McKee

In retrospect, I’m not sure why I listed all these “New York State Of Mind” versions separately, instead of once with each artist as I usually do. I can tell you that it ultimately helped me finish out this series with exactly the right number of entries, so I’m not about to go back and make a correction. New York would still have the most songs to its name regardless. Chicago’s trying to get in the game as well, but it will be too little too late in the end.

Posted in: Music.

Paxton’s day in appellate court

The grand jury was out to get Ken Paxton, apparently.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers for Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday tried to cast doubt on the makeup of the grand jury that indicted him. They’re hoping to overturn a lower court’s decision not to dismiss the securities fraud charges against him.

Much of the discussion at the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals centered on the composition of the Collin County grand jury that indicted Paxton on state charges nearly a year ago, setting up a legal drama that led to federal charges earlier this year. Paxton has pleaded not guilty to the state charges, which allege he misled investors in a company in which he had personal dealings before he became the state’s top law enforcement official.

Paxton’s lawyers argued Thursday morning that the the appeals court should reverse last year’s decision by Collin County District Judge George Gallagher not to end the case against Paxton before trial. Paxton lawyer Bill Mateja told the 5th Court of Appeals that the grand jury that indicted Paxton was not sufficiently random, the result of a judge who allegedly gave prospective jurors too much leeway in removing themselves from the process.

“Quite simply, the court did not follow the rules,” Mateja said, later acknowledging that if the grand jury were voided, it would affect every case it heard, not just Paxton’s. “It is better to nip this in the bud now than allow this to fester.”

Special prosecutor Brian Wice countered that there was nothing improper about how the jury was put together, saying Collin County District Judge Chris Older, who oversaw that process, “had inherent discretion” and “acted in good faith.” Even if the jury’s composition was less than random, Wice said, Paxton’s lawyers have so far failed to show how it harmed them.

See here, here, and here for the background. Seems like a lot to ask the court for a ruling that would have the effect of potentially throwing out a bunch of other indictments, but what do I know? There was another question at issue as well.

The other point of contention was whether Paxton was properly registered as an investment adviser when he encouraged some of his own legal clients to seek the services of Frederick “Fritz” Mowery, a friend who operated an investment firm in the same building as Paxton’s law office. Paxton received a commission on these referrals.

Arguing against the third-degree felony charge, Mateja said Paxton was registered with the federal authorities because so was Frederick “Fritz” Mowery, the friend who operated the investment firm that Paxton recommended.

He added the federal investment definition for investment advisor representative “trumps the state’s definition.” He also called the state definition too broad, saying it could require people who distribute leaflets for investment firms or newspapers that advertise for them to register as a representative.

Wice disagreed, saying the state law is clear and that Paxton should have been registered with the the Texas State Securities Board.

Yes, that’s Ken Paxton’s lawyer arguing that federal law trumps state law. Because Ken Paxton has that much respect for the power of the federal government. How anyone managed to keep a straight face during this is a mystery to me.

Anyway. The courtroom proceedings were staid and boring compared to the political spectacle, which involved Paxton making a video whining about how terribly, terribly persecuted he’s being for this itty bitty financial peccadilloes. I mean, what’s a little fraud among friends, and I right? The Lone Star Project takes apart Paxton’s claims. I’m hoping the 5th Circuit judges do the same; both sides say they expect an expedited ruling, but that would still be months from now. Finally, it turns out that there’s yet another former employee of the AG’s office who is collecting salary for doing nothing. It’s a long story, so read it all; there’s a bit at the end about how this particular employee had oversight of a disastrous project to upgrade and outsource the management of child support enforcement systems. Maybe I’m reading too much into things, but that all smells fishy to me in a way that the others did not. Read it and see what you think. The Chron has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Meyers voter ID lawsuit on hold

That’s my interpretation of this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Larry Meyers and his co-plaintiff yesterday nonsuited their lawsuit against the state that claimed the voter ID law was unconstitutional.

The plantiffs plan to refile their lawsuit after they gather more evidence, said their attorney, Andrew Sommerman. The nonsuit came just one day after they argued their case before Dallas’s Fifth Court of Appeals.

“This was a hearing on a plea to the jurisdiction. We got the impression after arguing in front of the panel, the court of appeals would want to see more evidence about one thing or another,” said Sommerman, a partner in Sommerman & Quesada in Dallas.

The Fifth Court justices on the panel seemed to want more evidence about the number of people who had been denied their vote because of the voter ID law, Sommerman said. He said he feels good about the merits of the lawsuit, but there needs to be more work to regarding the jurisdiction question.

See here for the background. My bit of Google-based research tells me that to “non-suit” means to drop the matter (in this case, at least) without it being concluded or decided. It’s not clear to me why this information is needed, or why the pause in the action has to happen, but since the federal lawsuit has surely covered this ground, I imagine it can be provided in fairly short order. I’ll keep my eyes open for further developments.

Posted in: Legal matters.

I-45 update: North St Bridge and more

The latest update from the I-45 Coalition:

Dear I-45 Coalition member,

October 2015 was the last update … it’s now May 2016 … several things have changed in the past 8 months.

As a quick summary, TxDOT will be rebuilding I-45.  This will be a massive project that includes rerouting I-45 downtown by abandoning most of the Pierce elevated and routing I-45 below-grade next to I-59 by George R Brown Convention Center. There are 3 Segments involved in the project – Segment 1 (610 to Beltway 8);Segment 2 (610 to I-10) and Segment 3 (the Downtown Loop).

We are currently in year 11 of an approximately 12 year planning phase … prior to shovels hitting the ground for 4-6 years of construction.  TxDOT has held 4 public meetings so far, the last one in April 2015.

The next meeting will be a public HEARING (much different than a meeting) in late fall 2016 … probably October or November 2016. This will be the last opportunity for the public’s voices to be heard before construction begins! Comments received during the Public Hearing will be considered, then a ‘Record of Decision’ (ROD) will be issued & construction will begin (when funding is secured).

I am part of the I-45 Coalition, which is an all-volunteer group that was formed to address issues related to the planned construction of I-45 and to work with TxDOT to ensure that the pending construction comply with these 3 tenets: (1) No expansion beyond the existing right-of- way (2) Alternative means of transportation must be explored (3) No negative impact on the neighborhoods quality of life.

Well … #2 has never been explored, #3 is yet to be determined & #1 was initially going well, but has changed recently.

For Segment 2 – Initially, TxDOT was staying within existing right-of way (ROW) in Segment 2, except for some intersections. Now, things have changed – per TxDOT “The project now requires limited ROW acquisition on both sides of the highway between Quitman and Cavalcade to allow for ramping and connectivity between Quitman and N. Main. These changes were brought to us by neighborhoods wanting better access to the freeway.  There is also a small sliver of ROW at the gas station on the northwest corner of N. Main to avoid impacts to the Hollywood Cemetery.”

Between Little White Oak Bayou to N. Main, on the East side of I-45 a service road is being created/expanded. “The length of the ROW is approximately 2400’ and the width varies between 10’ to 120’. Despite the large range in width, only the first row of properties adjacent to the highway would be affected. There are a total of 17 affected parcels.  Of those, 12 have structures and one has a billboard that will be impacted.”

North St. Bridge – This will be gone. No vehicular bridge. No pedestrian bridge. The main I-45 roadway will be raised to almost grade level at North St. so there will be no way to have any bridge there.

You can look at TxDOT’s plan, maps & designs on their website, www.ih45northandmore.com

The I-45 Coalition will keep you updated as plans progress. It will be critical to attend the Hearing, when it is announced.

If you are not on our contact list, please go to www.I-45Coalition.org , then “How You Can Help” & enter your email info. Or go on Facebook & search for I-45 Coalition or https://www.facebook.com/groups/126404660719854

The project is on a short fuse now… please stay involved!

Jim Weston, I-45 Coalition

See here for the last update. I’ll be sorry to see the North Street Bridge go, but I can’t claim it’s highly trafficked. Mostly, I hope that Mayor Turner and the various people who represent this area are staying on top of developments and expressing their own concerns and opinions to TxDOT. Remember, there are other possibilities. I’ll keep an eye out for an announcement about that meeting.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Endorsement watch: Still saying No to Reynolds

The Chron reiterates its opposition to Rep. Ron Reynolds in the HD27 primary runoff.

Angelique Bartholomew

Angelique Bartholomew

Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton has been indicted for securities fraud. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is under criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers for misusing state funds.

When corruption and criminality become the go-to descriptors for statewide Republicans, it becomes that much easier for Democrats to claim a moral high ground.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds makes it that much harder.

[…]

If Democratic voters want to show that theirs is the moral compass that points to true north, then they should vote out Reynolds and replace him with his challenger in the runoff for District 27: Angelique Bartholomew.

Bartholomew, 46, is a certified mediator and director of compliance for a medical firm. A mother of five, she has degrees from Fisk University and Miles Law School and has been endorsed by Annie’s List. She’s running for office on a platform of meat-and-potatoes issues such as education and affordable healthcare.

The Chron had previously endorsed Steve Brown in HD27, but he did not make it to the runoff. You know how I feel about this, so I won’t belabor it. Reynolds was recently profiled by the Trib, in which he expressed confidence about the runoff. He nearly made it over the 50% line in March, so all his issues aside, he’s got to be seen as the favorite in this race. As always, it’s a matter of who is motivated to show up for this election. I’m hoping those who are motivated are ready for a change.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Precinct 1 Commissioners Court race update

HarrisCounty

Three items of interest:

1. There will be a public forum on Sunday, May 22, from 3 to 5 PM at CWA Local 6222- 1730 Jefferson St, Houston, TX 77002, to meet the people who have expressed interest in being named to fill the ballot in place of the late El Franco Lee. The four that have shared their interest with the HCDP so far are Sen. Rodney Ellis, interim Commissioner Gene Locke, Nathaniel West, Sr., and Georgia Provost. Everybody knows that CM Dwight Boykins is also interested in this nomination, but thanks to state law and the city’s new four-year terms for Council members, he can’t say that out loud just yet without (maybe) having to resign his seat. Nobody knows for sure if state law applies to this situation, as this election is unlike all others, but he understandably doesn’t want to take an unnecessary risk. That said, I am sure that CM Boykins will be in attendance next Sunday.

2. Another name I can add to this list is the Rev. DeWayne Lark, who is having a meet-and-greet this Sunday with (I presume) precinct chairs. I’m not able to attend, so that’s all the information I have at this time.

3. On Monday, I received in the mail a photocopy of a Chronicle story from April about Sen. Ellis and his bond work, which I blogged about here. Just a photocopy of the print story, no writing on the single piece of paper and no return address on the envelope. An attack mailer, clearly, one that does not meet legal requirements. This has got to be the cheapest election ever for sending attack mail, I figure. The entire voting universe is 130 or so people, and you know exactly who they are. It’s probably not the only piece of mail I’ll get between now and June 25.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Cruz says he will run for re-election in 2018

Oh, goody.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is officially running for re-election in 2018.

Cruz filed paperwork Wednesday afternoon to seek a second term, adding some clarity to his political future just over a week after he ended his presidential campaign.

“Heidi and I feel incredibly privileged to have made the run for president and be part of an incredible grassroots movement,” Cruz said in a statement. “I will continue fighting for jobs, freedom and security in the Senate for 27 million Texans and all Americans across this great country.”

While Cruz could change his mind, the announcement puts to rest some speculation that he would sit out a second term to prepare for a comeback bid for the White House in 2020. In any case, he is not expected to face a serious Republican challenge for his seat in 2018.

Kind of goes without saying that (barring anything unexpected) that’s all he has to worry about, unfortunately. Perhaps the time wasn’t right for him to jump on the wingnut gravy train just yet. The main thing to say here is aimed at all of the pundits and Texas-based newspaper editorial writers: Please don’t embarrass yourself by writing some earnest, heartfelt article urging Cruz to put his nose to the grindstone and do the work of, you know, actually representing Texas in the Senate, and especially don’t humiliate yourself by invoking the name of past Senators like LBJ or KBH. If you haven’t figured out by now that this is who and what Ted Cruz is, and that he’s no more likely to do what you implore than I am to be on the men’s beach volleyball team in the 2020 Olympics, then you really need to find another line of work, because you lack the first clue about politics. Accept the reality of the situation and move on to something productive, please. It’s for your own good.

Posted in: Election 2018.