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Bail lawsuit settlement outline taking shape

We should have a final version in a couple of weeks.

A proposed settlement in the landmark Harris County bail lawsuit would significantly change how the county treats poor defendants in misdemeanor cases by providing free social and transportation services and relaxing penalties for missed court dates.

The draft deal includes a number of reforms aimed at ensuring poor defendants arrive for court hearings and are not unfairly pressured into guilty pleas. They would, among other changes: require Harris County to provide free child care at courthouses, develop a two-way communication system between courts and defendants, give cell phones to poor defendants and pay for public transit or ride share services for defendants without access to transportation to court.

“I’m not aware of any county, or city the size of Houston… doing those type of innovative things,” said Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor who filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the poor defendants. “Ultimately, the county is going to save so much money by not keeping these people in jail.”

The proffered agreement would require the county to operate at least one night or weekend docket to provide a more convenient opportunity for defendants with family, work and education commitments. Courts would be barred from charging any fees to poor defendants, defined as those earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $25,000 for someone with no dependents.

The proposal also would reduce penalties for missed court dates. A defendant could not be deemed to have failed to appear if he arrived in court on the day assigned, even if he was hours late. Defendants would be allowed to reschedule court appearances for any reason at least two times without negative consequences. Judges only could issue bench warrants 30 days after a missed a court appearance, so long as the court already has attempted to contact the defendant with a rescheduled hearing date.

In addition, judges would be required to permit defendants to skip hearings where their presence is unnecessary, such as routine meetings between prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges that do not involve testimony or fact-finding.

At the heart of the 23-page proposed settlement, a copy of which was obtained by the Houston Chronicle, is the codification of a new bail schedule unveiled by the slate of newly elected of criminal judges in January, under which about 85 percent of people arrested on misdemeanors automatically qualify for release on no-cash bonds.

“Our current goal now is to become the model misdemeanor court system in America,” said Harris County Criminal Court at Law Judge Darrell Jordan, a bail reform advocate and the only Democrat on the misdemeanor bench when the case began. “I think the proposals in the settlement, as far as the wraparound services for misdemeanor defendants, is a great step in that direction.”

[…]

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a statement late Friday stressing that the proposal is preliminary, and could change.

“We’re working well with the plaintiffs to reach an agreement that will provide a model for bail reform around the country while also being feasible for the county to implement,” she said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said he is eager to negotiate a settlement that balances the needs of defendants against those of victims and county taxpayers. He declined to speak to specific provisions in the proposed settlement, but said he has concerns that some may be too expensive or unrealistic.

“I’ll just say there’s a number of things that immediately hit me like, ‘I’m not sure how we’re going to do that,’” Garcia said.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack and Precinct 4’s Jack Cagle panned the proposal, which they said is too broad. The pair of Republicans said it should instead focus on implementing bail rules that ignore a defendant’s ability to pay.

“If my learned colleagues are going to strive for free Uber rides for the accused, I’d strongly advocate we provide the same to victims,” Cagle said.

Just a reminder, for anyone who might be fixating on the Uber rides or childcare aspects of this, the goal here is to get people to show up for their court dates. I would remind you that the alternative to paying for those relatively small things is paying to house, feed, and clothe thousands of people for weeks or months at a time, and that we have been doing exactly that for decades now. And if it’s the Uber thing that’s really sticking in your craw, then I trust you support a robust expansion of our public transit and pedestrian infrastructure so that it’s practical for anyone to take a bus to the courthouse. (Though having said that, if Commissioner Cagle was being sincere and not sarcastic, providing rides to the courthouse for victims who need them seems like a good idea to me.)

Again, just to review. Locking people up who have not been convicted of a crime is (with limited exceptions) wrong. Locking people up who have been arrested on charges that would normally not carry jail time if they were convicted is wrong. Locking people up for technical violations that have nothing to do with the crimes with which they have been charged is wrong. We spend tens of millions of dollars of our tax dollars every year doing these things. This is our chance to spend a whole lot less, and to get better results for it.

Two for CD22

I expect the primary season for the other competitive Republican-held Congress districts to be busy, and so it begins.

Nyanza Moore

Lawyer Nyanza Moore plans to officially announce her candidacy Sunday for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, where she plans to seek the 2020 Democratic nomination for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land.

“My personal story is rooted in faith, guided by progressive values, and fueled by the will to overcome tragedy,” Moore said in a statement.

In a news release, Moore focused heavily on health care, recalling financial challenges when both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer, and when her sister once went into a coma. She connected the topic to Olson, contending he has “repeatedly voted to take away health care” from constituents.

Moore’s announcement comes the weekend after Democrat Sri Kulkarni launched his second campaign for the seat. Kulkarni was the district’s Democratic nominee last cycle and came within five points of unseating Olson.

See here for Kulkarni’s announcement, which notes that there is also a third potential contender out there as well. CD22 drew five Dem hopefuls in 2018, when it was an interesting but more remote possibility that wasn’t on the national radar. It’s very much on the radar now, which I suspect will increase the level of interest, even with Kulkarni showing himself to have been a strong candidate and good fundraiser. This is as good an opportunity as you’re likely to get and you miss all the shots you don’t take, so if you think you’ve got what it takes, why not give it a go? Nyanza Moore’s webpage is here and her Facebook page is here. As always, I’ll be looking forward to seeing the campaign finance reports.

Weekend link dump for April 14

What 50-year-old astronaut diapers can teach us about the potential origins of life on Earth.

“The campaign and presidency of Donald Trump seems to have ended all references to gaffes. To the extent that the term refers to a politician who goes off script, how can he commit a gaffe when there is never any script to begin with?”

“Nobody proofread the NCAA’s huge signs in Minneapolis”.

Hey, remember when Shazam! was a weird Saturday morning kids show?

A few of those lost MySpace songs have been recovered.

“Anyway, I have an answer to this dilemma: nominate Stephen Miller as secretary of Homeland Security. He’s the guy who’s been advising Trump on immigration policy all along, so he’d be obligated to break the law and do whatever Trump wanted. Later, he could be prosecuted for wilfully violating immigration statutes and be put away for five-to-ten with time off for good behavior. Trump would get what he wants and Miller would get what he deserves. It’s win-win.”

“Over all, 59 percent of people 18 to 24 say they’re Democrats, compared with 33 percent who say they’re Republicans, according to an Upshot analysis of Pew Research Center data over the last year.”

“Many of you spoke out against this barbaric policy. However strong the opposition, your words are meaningless unless they are backed up with resolute action. We call on you to make it clear that you will not hire for employment, contract for consulting, or seat on your boards, anyone involved in the development or implementation of the Trump administration’s family separation immigration policy.”

How you can ask for the Mueller Report.

“What happens to Nielsen now can serve as an example to other people in the administration as they decide whether to just follow orders. By this, I don’t mean that people should scream at Nielsen in restaurants. Rather, those horrified by family separation should do whatever they can to deny Nielsen the sort of cushy corporate landing or prestigious academic appointment once customary for ex-administration officials. The fact that she evidently didn’t go as far as an erratic and out-of-control Trump wanted is immaterial; she should be a pariah for going as far as she did.”

“Iowa’s economy relies on immigrants who often work in our agriculture, construction and manufacturing industries. Iowa’s economy now depends on its estimated 96,000 immigrant workers.”

A Twitter thread in appreciation of Tom Lehrer.

Game of Thrones Season 8 Bingo cards. For those who might need that sort of thing.

RIP, Charles Van Doren, disgraced former game show contestant on whom the movie Quiz Show is based.

RIP, Marilynn Smith, one of 13 women who founded the LPGA in 1950.

RIP, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, last survivor of the Doolittle Raid, the first U.S. strike on the Japanese islands during World War II.

“The relevant law here is neither obscure nor unclear. If most citizens were previously unaware of tax code section 6103, that’s because they’ve not been in a position to invoke it. But for those to whom it is relevant — law enforcement agencies, state tax authorities, committees of Congress, and others — it is straightforward. The statute permits the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to request any tax return, provided — and this is important — he ensures the privacy of the return.”

“I was among those who wanted to give [William Barr] the benefit of the doubt when he came in. I just felt he would just want to protect his reputation for integrity and would want to show that he was independent … and he has now repeatedly acted in ways that have called all of that into question.

“They simply can’t grasp their way toward the obvious explanation. He’s a bad actor, using his office for the purpose of defending the President as opposed to enforcing the law. He’s a crook. But he’s a smart one. And at least as far as we know so far he’s using his legitimate powers in creative ways to take corrupt actions.”

“Ozzie Albies’s New Deal Could Be the Worst an MLB Player Has Ever Signed”.

“One of the first two Muslim women ever in Congress was always likely to face smears equating her with terrorism and questioning her loyalty and fitness to serve. Such are the wages of embodying an existential threat to a politics that has spent decades profiting from fear of Muslims, immigrants, and — more recently — refugees and asylum seekers, and vowing ruthlessness toward them in response.”

Here comes the DCCC

National Dems really are serious about competing in Texas next year.

National Democrats are ratcheting up their Texas offensive yet again ahead of 2020.

The chairwoman of U.S. House Democratic campaign arm announced Tuesday morning that her committee will open a new satellite office in Austin. The move replicates the committee’s 2018 California playbook, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had a substantive, on-the-ground presence in the Golden State and flipped seven U.S. House seats there.

“When it comes to places where House Democrats can go on offense, it doesn’t get any bigger than Texas,” said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., the chairwoman of the DCCC. “In 2018, Texas Democrats proved that they can win in competitive districts. That’s why we are continuing our investments in the Lone Star State by opening a new DCCC:Texas Headquarters.”

The DCCC previously announced a national offensive effort for the 2020 elections that would install staffers in the Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio suburbs. Monday’s announcement takes that initiative a step further, opening a central office in Austin with eight staffers including Texas Democratic operatives Roger Garza and Michael Beckendorf.

[…]

Back in 2017, the DCCC’s decision to open an office in Orange County – the home of President Richard Nixon – was met with skepticism. Democrats swept the county, picking up four seats and won three others to the north in Los Angeles County and in the San Joaquin Valley.

As for Texas Republicans, there are mixed emotions about this kind of spending and rhetoric.

A number of Republican insiders working in the state look back at the 2018 midterms as a perfect storm with Democrats benefitting from a uniquely talented standard-bearer in former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke running against a polarizing incumbent in U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and a statewide burst of organic enthusiasm that may already be subsiding.

But other Texas Republicans are anxious about the U.S. House map. Many of the concerned conversations are happening in private, but the Republican Party of Texas has been eager to ring the alarm and raise money off of these kinds of DCCC announcements.

Roger Garza is a Facebook friend of mine, and he worked on Rep. Colin Allred’s successful 2018 campaign. I approve of his hire.

I mean, we all know the story here. There’s a lot of action, and a lot of potential pickups for the DCCC in these locations. We saw what can happen last year, and there’s no reason to believe it can’t happen again this year. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Desperate Dan

Dan’s gonna do what Dan’s gonna do.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, increasingly desperate to pass legislation aimed at reforming the state’s property tax system, told a group of senators late Thursday night that if he can’t get the votes to win passage of the bill, on Monday he is simply going to change a decades-long Senate practice in order to guarantee himself a victory. Patrick issued the warning to Senate Democrats Thursday night, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussion.

To take up debate on legislation, three-fifths of the Senate, or nineteen senators, must vote to move forward. Patrick warned he would suspend this so-called three-fifths rule, a move known around the Capitol as the “nuclear option” because it would upend decades of tradition in the upper chamber, a body that has long esteemed itself for decorum and consensus-building. Patrick’s apparent decision, supported by Republican leadership, to suspend the tradition on Senate Bill 2 would mean that only a simple majority—sixteen votes—would be necessary to pass the property tax bill.

The move has Democratic senators scrambling to fashion a response and has some Republicans concerned about the precedent that the move could set. Senators said they intend to work throughout the weekend to fashion a bill acceptable to both parties and thereby avoid the nuclear option.

“It underscores the seriousness of the situation,” said Bill Miller, a longtime lobbyist and Capitol watcher who could not think of another instance in which this legislative maneuver has been used.

The Trib goes into some more detail.

Traditionally, the upper chamber starts the session by passing what’s called a “blocker bill” — a bill that sits ahead of any other priorities on the Senate’s ordered agenda so that bringing up anything other measure ahead of it requires a three-fifths vote, or 19 senators in support if all 31 are on the floor. Passing that bill would allow Patrick to bring a measure to the floor with a simple majority of senators, just 16.

The “blocker bill” tradition dates back at least to the 1950s.

It wouldn’t be the first time Patrick upended tradition to grease the skids in the chamber he’s led since 2015. That year, in his first term as lieutenant governor, Patrick lowered the threshold from two-thirds to three-fifths, allowing the chamber’s Republicans to bring legislation to the floor without support from any Democrats.

Senate Bill 2, along with an identical House Bill 2, was filed in January after the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House declared a united front in addressing property tax reform this session. But since then, facing opposition from local officials who argue the 2.5 percent election trigger is too low to accommodate their budgeting needs, it stalled in the Senate, passing the upper chamber’s property tax committee in February but not coming to the floor for a vote.

Meanwhile, in the House, the once-identical bill was overhauled in committee to carve out school districts, a change that has drawn criticism from some of the lower chamber’s more conservative members.

The House, which seems to have been moving the measure at a faster clip, was scheduled to debate the property tax bill on Thursday, but recessed that morning amid rumors that the Senate would instead bring up its version first. After a day of private negotiations, neither chamber brought up the proposal.

You may note the interesting math involved in Dan’s dilemma.

Senate rules say a bill can only be debated on the floor if three-fifths of senators, or 19 of the 31 members, agree to hear it. Republicans hold exactly the number of seats needed to meet this threshold.

But at least one, Amarillo Sen. Kel Seliger, has expressed his opposition to the tax bill, citing a preference for local control and concern that the 2.5 percent cap would hurt local government services. Without this support, Patrick cannot bring it up for debate unless he suspends the rules and instead allows a simple majority of senators to bring the bill up for debate.

In an interview with The News on Friday, Seliger criticized Patrick’s plan.

“The nuclear option would be a mistake,” Seliger said. “It’s obviously the desperate option.”

Seliger said he was still opposed to Senate Bill 2. Even if rural areas were exempted and public safety costs carved out, he still has serious problems with the proposal. When asked what tax proposal he would back, Seliger mentioned legislation he’s filed that “is not just designed, I think, to handicap those units of local government.”

Senate Republicans reached no agreements or compromises Thursday, Seliger said, adding Patrick was not interested in straying far from his legislation by “discussing any substantive changes or amendments to SB2.”

Seliger also criticized Patrick for saying he was frustrated one Republican could hold up the process.

“They’re inappropriate,” Seliger said of the comments. “Negotiations and things like that, when they’re held in the media, I don’t think are very productive. Our system is designed so people can work together in a non-partisan fashion, and I’m not sure what those comments do for collegiality and cooperation and the Senate.

Hey, remember how Dan Patrick and Kel Seliger have been feuding? I’m pretty sure they both remember it.

I’m not going to offer a principled defense of the three-fifths rule, or its deceased predecessor the two-thirds rule, which had largely become an irritant to be pushed aside rather than an actual rule before it was finally modified to better accommodate the number of Republicans in the Senate. It’s anti-majoritarian, and as Democrats and progressives are arguing against the morass of anti-majoritarian policies and laws in our federal government as fundamentally anti-democratic, I’m not going to carve out a special-pleading exception at the state level. There are plenty of other anti-majoritarian objects in our state government right now, most notably gerrymandering and voter suppression, that deserve our uncompromised opposition. This is not to say that I won’t derive some Nelson Muntz level of schadenfreude at Dan Patrick having to act like a bully who’s been exposed as a weakling, because we all deserve every opportunity we get to deride Dan Patrick. But when the day comes that Democrats achieve a majority in the State Senate, I’ll raise a glass in Patrick’s direction when Dems use that majority to pass the bills they want to pass, without getting tripped up by old traditions.

“Eight Myths Out”

This year is the 100th anniversary of the “Black Sox” scandal, in which members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox were accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the World Series. It’s a staple of baseball history and a cornerstone of the league’s strict anti-gambling rules since then, as well as the subject of a popular book and movie by the name “Eight Men Out”. It turns out, however, that the book, which was written in 1963, was incorrect on a number of fronts, and those factual errors, which have been since uncovered by further and more modern research, paint an inaccurate portrait of the story. Here’s a summary of new research from SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, that lays out the case.

This is the central thesis of Eight Men Out: Charles Comiskey’s “ballplayers were the best and were paid as poorly as the worst,” as Eliot Asinof wrote. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We can’t climb into the heads of the Black Sox to know exactly why they threw the World Series. But the players themselves rarely claimed, as Asinof did, that it was because of Comiskey’s low salaries or poor treatment — and we now have accurate salary information to back that up. Newly available organizational contract cards at the National Baseball Hall of Fame show that the White Sox’s Opening Day payroll of $88,461 was more than $11,500 higher than that of the National League champion Reds, and several of the Black Sox players were among the highest-paid at their positions. If they did feel resentment at their salaries under the reserve-clause system, so did players from 15 other major-league teams. The scandal was much more complex than disgruntled players trying to get back at the big, bad boss.

One of the most dramatic scenes in Eight Men Out is when White Sox ace Eddie Cicotte tries to collect a $10,000 bonus he says Charles Comiskey promised him if he won 30 games. (In the book, this story occurs in 1917; in the film, 1919.) The incident is seen as the catalyst for Cicotte’s involvement in the fix — but there is no basis of truth to the story. Other White Sox players did have small performance bonuses in their contracts. For example, Lefty Williams was paid a $500 bonus for winning 20 games in 1919. In any event, Cicotte and Chick Gandil were already conspiring with gamblers to fix the World Series several weeks before Comiskey would have had the chance to renege on a bonus payment. And if Cicotte had pitched better in the pennant clincher, he would have earned his 30th win regardless. 

Arnold Rothstein, known as “The Big Bankroll,” was credited as the mastermind of the plot by his henchman Abe Attell in a self-serving interview with Eliot Asinof years later, but it may have still gone through even without the involvement of the New York kingpin. Fixing the World Series was a total “team” effort and the White Sox players did most of the heavy lifting. Chick Gandil and Eddie Cicotte, separately and together, first approached Sport Sullivan, a prominent Boston bookmaker, and Sleepy Bill Burns, a former major-league pitcher, to get the fix rolling. Then they began recruiting their teammates in several meetings before the World Series. Rothstein eventually did get involved, but he was far from the only underworld figure to play a role. 

There’s more, so go read the rest. There’s also a ton of links to follow for further reading if the subject interests you. As they say at the end, the Black Sox scandal is a cold case, not a closed case. There’s still more to learn about it, and our perceptions will likely continue to evolve as more evidence comes to light.

No, we should not fear a competitive primary for Senate

This comes up all the time, for both parties. It’s way overblown.

Big John Cornyn

Democrats are closer than they’ve been in decades to winning statewide in Texas. But a looming clash between two of the party’s top prospects could blow their shot.

A pair of prominent Democrats — Rep. Joaquín Castro and MJ Hegar, a veteran who narrowly lost a House race last year —are seriously considering Senate campaigns, and a potential showdown between them is already dividing the party over who is best positioned to challenge three-term GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

Neither Hegar nor Castro has announced they’re running, but both have met with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) to discuss it. And both have prominent Democratic supporters convinced they represent the party’s best option to turn Texas blue. But a divisive primary would likely leave the eventual nominee damaged and cash-depleted, making the uphill climb to unseat Cornyn that much steeper.

[…]

So far in the Senate race, Hegar appears to be moving faster than Castro. She met with Schumer in New York in early March, right after O’Rourke announced he would forgo another campaign to run for president instead.

Hegar wrote an email to supporters last week that she was “taking a very close look” at running for the Senate race and said the incumbent had shown a “complete lack of leadership” in Washington. Her timetable for an official announcement is not yet clear, but one source familiar with Hegar’s thinking said she remains “full steam ahead” on the race.

Castro’s intentions are less clear, according to conversations with more than a half-dozen Democrats in Washington and Texas. Castro met with Schumer last week to discuss the race, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting. Texas Monthly published a story last month quoting a source familiar with Castro’s thinking that he was “all but certain” to enter the race, which many Democrats interpreted as a hint an announcement was imminent.

But Castro has not publicly signaled what his plans are in the weeks since, leaving most Democrats uncertain if he will run — and some frustrated by his indecision.

“I’m going to kill him,” said one source close to Castro, exaggerating for effect to relate his frustration over the congressman’s equivocation.

Castro declined multiple requests to comment on his Senate deliberations outside the Capitol in the past week. His political adviser, Matthew Jones, said an announcement would be in the near future: “Joaquin will make his announcement about running for Senate on his own timeline and in a way that works best for the people of Texas and his own family.”

Hegar and Castro both have significant allies pushing for them to enter the race. Leaders at EMILY’s List have called for a woman to run in Texas, and Latino Victory Fund has launched a draft effort to push Castro into the race, including endorsements from four members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Texas Democrats are fully prepared for the possibility of a primary between Hegar and Castro, and it remains possible other candidates will enter the race — including Amanda Edwards, an African American city council member in Houston. Edwards told POLITICO in an interview she is seriously considering a bid, and that Hegar and Castro’s decisions wouldn’t influence hers. She has spoken to EMILY’s List and the DSCC about the race, and said a decision could come “sooner rather than later.”

[…]

Some top Democrats, however, argue a primary would actually be helpful, allowing candidates to sharpen their messages and introduce themselves to a wider set of voters.

“Nobody will be hurt in a contested primary, and you would have stronger candidates come out,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the state Democratic Party, which recently launched a war room to attack Cornyn over the coming months. “Not that I’m hoping for a contested primary, but we’re not afraid to see that.”

Other Democrats are more nervous about the prospect. A contested primary would rob the candidates of months of time to focus solely on Cornyn and would drain resources in an extremely expensive state. The primary is in early March, earlier than any other state, and would allow ample time to pivot to the general election.

But if other candidates enter the race, and no candidate reaches 50 percent, the top two finishers would meet in a runoff at the end of May, robbing them of valuable time to raise money and build support to take on Cornyn. One veteran Democratic operative, requesting anonymity to speak candidly, said even the prospect of a runoff “hurts everyone.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Clearly, I need to revisit my assumption that Castro would have a clear path to the nomination if he declared his intention to run. The main inference to draw from this is that a lot of people really think Cornyn is beatable in 2020, in a way that basically nobody outside of Beto O’Rourke at this time in 2017 thought Ted Cruz was beatable. I mean, it seems obvious, but this is well beyond just putting one’s name out there. Castro, as noted many times, has a safe seat in a majority Democratic Congress, four terms of seniority, and is already a leading voice in that chamber. Hegar could let Castro run and ride his likely coattails, DCCC support, and her own strong campaign experience to as good a shot at winning CD31 as one could want. Amanda Edwards could cruise to re-election this fall, and then be in good position to run for Mayor in 2023. All three of them are willing to give it up for a chance to run statewide, even if they have to go through one or more other strong Democratic contenders in a primary. You don’t do that if you don’t have a firm belief you can win.

So what about it then, if two or three of them (plus the assorted minor candidates) meet in the primary? I see that as largely, almost entirely, positive for the reasons cited by “some top Democrats”. Nothing will get the candidates started earlier on engaging voters, raising money, pushing registration efforts, and so on like the need to win an election in March. Money spent on voter outreach in March is still money spent on voter outreach, and I’d argue there’s even more value to it early on. Sure, it could get nasty, and sure, people get tired of family fights when they have to go into overtime, but that’s a risk worth taking. I feel like I see this kind of hand-wringy story written about potential contested primaries in both parties every time they come up, and most of the time it makes no difference in the end. As I’ve said before, my main interest is in having a strong contender in every possible race, so to that end I’d prefer to see Hegar try again in CD31. But beyond that, come in whoever wants to come in. Let the best candidate win, and we’ll go from there.

Is there a city/firefighters agreement in the works?

They’re talking, for whatever it’s worth.

Officials from the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association said Friday they would seek union members’ approval of a 3.5-year phase-in of Proposition B if the city meets certain conditions.

After meeting with the union to discuss the terms, however, Mayor Sylvester Turner released a statement saying the provisions were “not consistent” with discussions held at the meeting.

Union president Marty Lancton said he had in fact laid out the union’s terms to the mayor, which include a guarantee that no firefighters will receive layoffs “before, during or after implementation of Proposition B.”

“We said it implicitly and explicitly,” Lancton said.

The mayor acknowledged the union delivered a copy of the letter, but accused Lancton of publicizing it before the meeting. Lancton also said this was untrue.

Aside from the no-layoff guarantee, union officials said any phase-in agreement would have to be ratified through a collective bargaining agreement.

Lancton also said Turner’s administration must provide the firefighters with “complete access to city financial and budget information” and implement “complete parity,” including base and incentive pay, with Houston police officers.

The two sides were scheduled to meet again next week before Houston City Council considers a measure at its Wednesday meeting that would authorize 220 firefighter layoffs.

See here for the latest update. I mean, maybe they’ll hammer something out and maybe they won’t. Deadlines have a way of focusing the mind, especially when layoffs are on the other side. I’ll reserve judgment about what may or may not be involved until there’s a resolution, but I will say this: Very early on in this process, Mayor Turner’s position was that Prop B had to be implemented all at once, there was no legal path to negotiating a phase-in. Everyone seems to have forgotten about that, which in and of itself doesn’t bother me too much since I like the idea of phasing it in regardless. But if this is true, then all it will take is someone filing a lawsuit to screw this all up. Let’s worry about that another day, as it’s not a thing until and unless a phase-in deal is ratified. There’s plenty of trouble here already without borrowing more.

Instagram in space!

Far out. Like, literally.

Internet service can sometimes be spotty here on Earth. Just imagine checking email from the moon or searching Google from Mars.

A Houston satellite and artificial intelligence company wants to make that possible through an “interplanetary internet” that someday could connect Earth to mining companies on the moon and human colonies on Mars and other planets. It ultimately would require a network of satellites stretching for hundreds of millions of miles and technology compensating for the movement of planets to prevent the interruption of data streaming at the speed of light.

But you’ve got to start somewhere.

“I fundamentally believe that we will be an interplanetary species,” Ben Lamm, chief executive of the parent company of Hypergiant Galactic Systems, the Houston firm aiming to build out the worlds-wide-web. “We need to start building the core infrastructure for the interplanetary internet now.”

Hypergiant Galactic, a subsidiary of Hypergiant Industries of Austin, is launching its effort as NASA talks about returning to the moon and sending humans to Mars. Hypergiant Galactic expects to begin building the outer-space internet next year by launching a series of small satellites that would be positioned at different points in space to create a network to relay signals from Earth until reaching the end destination, such as the moon, another planet or a space ship. (Kirk to Enterprise?)

Phase one, which includes connecting Earth to the moon and Mars over the next decade, would cost tens of millions of dollars, according to Hypergiant. Once the project moves beyond Mars, costs vault into the hundreds of millions.

The satellites also would store a 30-million page archive of human knowledge that will act as a scaled-down version of the internet so, for example, colonists on Mars could access it quickly, without having to wait long periods for pages to load as signals move from Mars to Earth and back. The archive would be updated frequently, and ultimately built out into a more robust subset of the internet.

The archive also aims to preserve and protect the legacy of the human race by placing it in off-world storage should cataclysm strike the planet. The archive, assembled by the nonprofit Arch Mission Foundation and stored on long-lasting metal disks as a backup to the version that can be updated from Earth, includes everything from Wikipedia to the Harry Potter series to the world’s many languages and mathematical equations.

I don’t really have anything to add to this. It caught my eye and I thought it was cool. Plus, it gave me a reason to embed this video:

Give the aliens all our best, Janet.

Paxton gives the middle finger to House Oversight Committee

I’m sure you’re as shocked as I am.

Best mugshot ever

Facing an investigation over the state’s botched efforts to screen its voter rolls for noncitizens, the Texas Attorney General’s Office is declining congressional leaders’ request for information about the review.

In a Thursday letter to top officials with the House’s main investigative committee, Jeffrey Mateer, the state’s first assistant attorney general, indicated the state was brushing off a request for documents and communications from the Texas secretary of state and attorney general because the committee lacks “oversight jurisdiction.”

Instead, Mateer wrote, the state will treat the congressional inquiry as a public information request under state law, which grants the Texas attorney general’s office broad control over what information can be withheld from the public.

“We do not interpret your letter to be a subpoena issued under applicable House Rules. Nor do we consider it a request for information under any applicable federal law,” Mateer said. “For the foregoing reasons, and because the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and its subcomittees lack oversight jurisdiction over constitutional officers of the State of Texas, we must interpret your request under Texas state law.”

[…]

A spokesperson for the committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the AG’s letter. But in announcing the Texas investigation — part of a broader probe of voting irregularities in multiple states — Cummings and Raskin cited their authority to investigate “any matter” at “any time” under the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. The committee has the authority to issue subpoenas. Raskin chairs a subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties.

See here and here for the background. I wish I could say I was surprised by this, but it’s about as surprising as a humid morning in July. What happens next is probably a subpoena, but after that it’s anyone’s guess.

The committee said in response to Paxton’s letter that it still expects to receive the documents.

“The right to vote is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and Congress is charged with protecting and defending the Constitution,” the committee said in a statement.

“Congress has an independent responsibility to investigate violations even when there may be separate litigation involving the same or similar matters. We expect full compliance with the Committee’s request.”

A committee spokesperson would not address a question about the use of a subpoena to obtain the emails and other documents.

[…]

Joe Larsen, a Houston lawyer and board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said even if the House does file a subpoena, the Attorney General could decline to cooperate.

The larger legal question of whether the committee has jurisdiction in a state matter may ultimately have to be solved by a court, Larsen said.

Normally, congressional oversight is for the executive branch, which does not include states, he said.

“It’s the idea that the federal government cannot be micromanaging what’s going on in the states unless that power is directly given to them by the Congress,” Larsen said.

But the committee could make the argument that it has the right under the “necessary and proper clause” of the Constitution to ensure that federal laws such as the Voting Rights Act aren’t being violated.

“That’s going to be a fight,” Larsen said. “It’s a fair argument on both sides.”

Better hope the courts are sympathetic to that line of reasoning. Our next chance to hold these amoral assholes accountable isn’t until 2022, and we can’t afford to wait that long.

Was the McLeod replacement too hasty?

Eh, I dunno.

Judge William McLeod

Republican members of Harris County Commissioners Court criticized their Democratic colleagues for quickly approving a new civil court judge at Tuesday’s meeting who had not been vetted by the full body.

The three Democrats voted to appoint Houston lawyer Lesley Briones to replace County Court at Law Judge Bill McLeod, who inadvertently resigned last week. Briones’ name was absent from the agenda, she had only spoken with the Democratic members and just 36 minutes passed between her nomination and approval.

“This is the least transparent appointment I have ever seen,” Republican Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said. “The unfairness of the process was overwhelming.”

During the meeting, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle held up Briones résumé, which he had been handed minutes earlier, and said he may have supported her if he only had the chance to review it. Instead the vote fell along party lines, 3 to 2.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who regularly pledges her administration will be more transparent than those past, defended the process.

Hidalgo said Commissioners Court faces several pressing issues, including responses to two massive chemical fires in recent weeks and a looming settlement in the county’s landmark bail lawsuit. When an assistant county attorney warned court members Tuesday that leaving Judge McLeod on the bench as a holdover judge almost certainly would force him to recuse himself from some cases, Hidalgo said the court needed to choose a replacement.

She said McLeod, not Commissioners Court, had created the predicament.

“I decided for myself it wasn’t going to go beyond this court,” Hidalgo said. She added, “This is something we needed to get done and move on from.”

See here for my initial reactions, and here for some further background. I have some sympathy for the Court here. This was a weird situation, not of their own making. I think most people would agree that inadvertent or not, McLeod did trigger the “resign to run” condition. I suspect as much as anything they just wanted to put this mess behind them, so they went ahead and named a replacement. I get it, but I have to agree that Commissioner Cagle makes a good point. They could at least have had something like a Judicial Committee hearing, to give all the Commissioners some time to know who they were voting on. I would hope this situation will never arise again, but in the unfortunate event it does, let’s take that lesson from this experience.

UPDATE: Stace sums it all up nicely.

Once again with EMILY’s List and the Senate

Pretty much the same story as before, but still worth noting.

Big John Cornyn

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro is considering jumping into the Texas Senate race, but he might not have the primary to himself if EMILY’s List gets its way.

The influential group, which backs female Democrats who support abortion rights, is in talks with three potential candidates: Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who lost a House race in 2018; Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards; and former state Sen. Wendy Davis.

“We would love to see a woman take Sen. [John] Cornyn on,” EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock told reporters Thursday. “We are in some conversations and really would like to find the candidate and then get everybody behind a strong woman to run for the U.S. Senate seat in Texas.”

Castro’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to Texas Monthly, Davis encouraged Castro to run and would consider running herself if he does not.

Hegar has been mentioned as a potential Senate candidate since she raised millions last cycle in her unsuccessful race against GOP Rep. John Carter — she lost by 3 points. Hegar tweeted this week that she is “taking a very close look” at running for Senate.

See here for previous reporting, which came from the Trib’s email newsletter. Wendy Davis took her name out of consideration for the Senate the day after this story appeared, and I cannot find any mention of Amanda Edwards possibly considering a Senate run anywhere else. She’s up for re-election to City Council this year, so she would have some decisions to make about how she wants to spend her time over the next few months or more. As such, I think this basically comes down to whether or not MJ Hegar is in fact “taking a very close look” at this or not. I’ve run through those possibilities before, so let me just say that as someone whose interest is in having the best ticket top to bottom, my first choice would be Joaquin for Senate and MJ taking another shot at CD31. But it’s not up to me, so we’re back to waiting for someone to make an official announcement. (And to note that given how long it used to take any candidate to appear in so many races in past cycles, being able to impatiently anticipate such announcements in April the year before is quite the #FirstWorldProblem for us Texas Dems to have.) This will all sort itself out eventually.

Yes, they really are now pushing a sales tax for property tax swap

Some bad ideas never die.

Texas’ top three political leaders — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — threw their support Wednesday behind a proposal to increase the sales tax by one percentage point in order to lower property taxes across the state.

But that’s only if lawmakers agree to limit future local property tax increases.

The proposal would raise the state’s sales tax from 6.25% to 7.25%, generating billions of additional dollars annually for property tax relief, if voters approve a constitutional amendment. But the idea will be a hard sell to Democrats, since the sales tax is considered regressive, meaning lower-income Texans end up paying a larger percentage of their paychecks than higher-income Texans.

“Today we are introducing a sales tax proposal to buy down property tax rates for all Texas homeowners and businesses, once Senate Bill 2 or House Bill 2 is agreed to and passed by both Chambers. If the one-cent increase in the sales tax passes, it will result in billions of dollars in revenue to help drive down property taxes in the short and long term,” said a joint statement from the three Republicans.

Neither chamber has passed HB 2 or SB 2, which would require voter approval of property tax increases over 2.5%.

The House Ways and Means Committee was scheduled to take public testimony on the House’s sales tax swap proposal this week but delayed hearing the bills. Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who authored House Joint Resolution 3 and House Bill 4621, is considering changing the legislation to use a fraction of the additional money generated by the sales tax for public schools — in order to get more Democrats on board.

The bills are intended to provide another revenue source to help significantly cut down local school property taxes, which make up more than half of the local property taxes levied in Texas.

If the Legislature approves the resolution, the constitutional amendment would go to voters to approve in November, and if voters sign on the tax rate change would apply in January 2020.

See here for the background and my opinion about this lousy idea. Given that a constitutional amendment is needed for this, it will be easy enough to prevent it from happening. The progressive case against swapping out property taxes, which will disproportionately benefit commercial real estate and wealthy homeowners, for regressive sales taxes, is clear cut, and likely to hold a lot of sway with the current Democratic caucus. There’s also polling evidence to suggest that the public doesn’t care for a sales tax increase. I’m a little skeptical of that, since the question was not asked in conjunction with a potential cut in property taxes, but that’s an argument for the Republicans to make, and given the baked in doubt about anything actually reducing property taxes (for good reason!), I’d take that bet. HB2 is up for debate today, so we’ll see how this goes. The Chron and Texas Monthly have more.

Commissioners Court replaces Judge McLeod

Unfortunate, but understandable.

Judge William McLeod

A divided Harris County Commissioners Court declined to give County Court At Law Judge Bill McLeod a reprieve Tuesday after he inadvertently resigned last week, opting instead to appoint a replacement.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said letting McLeod remain as a holdover judge until a special election for the seat in 2020 was too risky, since he almost would certainly have to recuse himself from cases to which the county was a party, as Commissioners Court would have the power to remove him at any time.

Instead, the court voted 3 to 2 to appoint Houston lawyer Lesley Briones to hold the seat through next year, on the recommendation of Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“I think voters deserve a judge who can be absolutely independent, as he was elected to be,” Hidalgo said. “This would put us in the untenable position that he would no longer be an unbiased person, because he would be beholden to Commissioners Court.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack and Precinct 4’s Jack Cagle voted against the appointment. Cagle told Briones he could not support her since the nomination was made just minutes earlier and he did not have a chance to review her qualifications.

Briones, a Yale Law School graduate and general counsel to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation until December, accepted the appointment on the spot.

“I have deep respect for the law and I respect that you made a hard decision, and I respect the consternation in this room,” Briones said. “But know that I will work extremely hard for everyone.”

See here and here for the background. There were some good legal arguments in favor of retaining Judge McLeod, while Judge Hidalgo’s point is worth taking seriously as well. In the end, I didn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other; I think either decision was defensible. JUst a couple of thoughts to keep in mind as we go forward:

– McLeod’s point that the state constitution is incredibly long and arcane is unquestionably true. It’s also kind of disingenuous coming from a judge. More to the point, this is why potential candidates should talk to a political professional or two before making any public statements about running for office, because there are various weird rules related to candidacy that are easy to stumble over if you don’t know what you’re doing. I can think of a dozen people off the top of my head who could have pointed this out to McLeod before he filed his designation of treasurer. You gotta do your due diligence.

– Not to belabor the point, but there’s a reason why basically nobody had been felled by this problem before. As I said in my first post, nearly every story about then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s rumored candidacy for Mayor was accompanied by a discussion of how he couldn’t say anything without triggering the resign-to-run provision. Sheriff isn’t judge, but in this case they’re both county positions. One might well wonder if that provision applied to one job, would it apply to another?

– All that said, let’s not get too high and mighty at Bill McLeod’s expense. Yes, this was a dumb and avoidable mistake, but it’s not like this particular cul-de-sac of our word salad that is the state constitution was a cornerstone of our inviolable values as a state. County court judges have to resign to run for another office, but district court judges and appeals court judges don’t. All five Democrats who ran for statewide judicial positions last year were sitting on a bench while running for something else, and last I checked our state didn’t collapse. The fact that Bill McLeod had to resign is a quirk and not a principle, and it’s at least as dumb as McLeod’s unfortunate action. I’m sorry this happened to him. I’m sure we’ll all take the lesson to check and doublecheck whether “resign to run” applies to whatever office one holds before stating an intention to seek another, but maybe we should also take the lesson that these same rules are arbitrary and ought to be reviewed to see if they still make sense. Campos has more.

Time for another Texas Central legislative update

I keep thinking that Texas Central has reached a point where there’s not much that can be done in the Lege to stop them, and events continue to prove otherwise.

Dallas-Houston bullet train developer Texas Central Partners LLC said its project could be delayed by a provision added to the Texas Senate’s proposed 2020-21 budget Wednesday, even though the company is not planning on using state funds to build the high-speed rail line. The company said language added to the upper chamber’s spending plan would encourage lawsuits and “is not beneficial for good coordination and planning.” Meanwhile, project opponents cheered the provision.

The measure, authored by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, continues to bar state funds from subsidizing high-speed passenger rail projects but would go further than current law. It would prevent the Texas Department of Transportation from helping coordinate access to rights-of-way on state highways for the high-speed rail project until there is a final, unappealable court ruling on the project’s eminent domain authority. Debate over whether Texas Central has the right to condemn land and buy it from unwilling owners has fueled opposition to the project and led to court battles across the state. The new language was added in what’s called a rider to the proposed budget.

[…]

“Working with TXDOT is critical to the project,” the company said in a statement late Wednesday. “This rider would impose arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions for a single project and sets a bad precedent.”

Texas law allows railroads to use eminent domain to take land for projects, and Texas Central says it is one. But opponents argue that the company doesn’t count as a railroad because it’s not operating any trains — and a Leon County Court upheld that viewpoint in February.

Texas Central disagreed with the ruling, citing a previous Harris County ruling in its favor, and said it plans to appeal the judge’s decision. But as the decision stands, the company can’t condemn land in the counties under the court’s jurisdiction, according to an attorney who represented the landowner in that case.

Patrick McShan, an attorney for the group Texans Against High-Speed Rail and more than 100 landowners along the train’s route, said there may be a lengthy court battle to settle the disagreement over whether the company can use eminent domain. And that, he said, could stall the project.

“At least two years, could be four years. Whatever it is, it’s several years,” he said. “It would be a significant obstacle to the project being constructed. … I do not envision a scenario where they can obtain these necessary approvals and these necessary court rulings to prove to the state that it is justifiable and necessary for the state to expend its resources on this project.”

See here for more on that court case, and here for where things stood at the end of the 2017 session. I fondly remember thinking that if Texas Central survived that session with nothing bad happening they were probably in good shape going forward. Those were the days, I tell you. The Senate budget still has to be approved by the full chamber and then reconciled with the House budget, so there will be opportunities for this rider to get ditched. And then I can make the same foolish prediction at the end of this session and get proven wrong again in 2021. It’s the circle of life, almost.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 8

The Texas Progressive Alliance did not listen to Paul Ryan’s advice in putting together this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Interview with Nabila Mansoor

Nabila Mansoor

Another city having its municipal elections next month is Sugar Land in Fort Bend County. Fort Bend was one of the epicenters of the emerging Democratic majority in Texas suburban counties, as Dems swept the countywide races there last year. Carrying that momentum over will be the next test for that coalition, in places like Sugar Land that have diverse populations but not especially diverse city governments. Nabila Mansoor is picking up that challenge in District 2, where the current Council member is term-limited. Mansoor is an attorney and longtime activist who has worked in organizations such as Emgage USA, where she is the past Texas Executive Director and current Census Director for the Empowering Communities Initiative. She is also one of the co-leads of the Houston circles of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. Here’s what we talked about:

I don’t have any other May candidate interviews planned at this time. Sometimes things change after I make public statements like that. Be that as it may, look for November candidate interviews beginning in July.

Using floodplain rules to force environmental safety compliance

A county’s gotta do what a county’s gotta do.

Harris County officials are using flood control regulations passed after Hurricane Harvey to delay the reopening of two chemical companies where fires erupted in recent weeks, killing one worker and sending large plumes of black smoke into the Houston area.

The Harris County Attorney’s office cited the post-Harvey rules on floodplain construction and stormwater drainage in its civil lawsuits against KMCO and Intercontinental Terminals Co., where cleanup is still ongoing after the fires.

“We don’t shy away from going after the biggest, baddest companies out there,” said Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. “It sends a message to everyone.”

The county is digging through maps and available data to determine if both companies are in a floodplain. The new regulations put chemical facilities that are in a 500-year floodplain under tighter scrutiny.

The drainage rules restrict discharges of hazardous materials into the county’s stormwater system. If a company is found to have discharged hazardous materials, it can be cited by the county. Larger releases could lead to additional legal action.

The floodplain rules apply to more than facilities with fires and toxic releases and can force companies to meet new requirements when seeking to expand or change an existing facility, said Rock Owens, managing attorney for the Harris County Attorney’s environmental section.

The story doesn’t go into detail about what compliance issues there are and how long they may take to resolve. You may be thinking “why doesn’t the county file a lawsuit against these companies to force them to fix their problems?” The answer is that this used to be how things went, but your Texas legislature has taken steps to shackle counties and their enforcement efforts.

But in 2015, the state Legislature started taking away authority from the local governments. Lawmakers approved a bill capping the amount of money a local government could receive from civil penalties sought in environmental cases.

In 2017, another bill passed forcing local authorities to ask permission from the Texas attorney general before seeking penalties. If the attorney general’s office does not file its own suit in 90 days, the local government can go forward with a civil suit.

Lawmakers are currently considering two bills that would restrict local governments even more.

House Bill 3981, filed by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, would give the attorney general the authority to settle lawsuits started by the county, without the approval of the county.

House bill 2826, filed by state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood and three others, would let the attorney general prohibit the county from hiring outside attorneys on cases.

“The concern isn’t that the local governments are intentionally causing any problems with these suits, just that a more efficient state-led effort may at times be more desirable,” said Justin Till, Bonnen’s chief of staff.

More desirable for the polluters, that’s for sure. Let’s be very clear, the main reason why bills like these get passed are specifically to muzzle Harris County’s enforcement efforts. (The city of Houston’s efforts were killed by the Supreme Court.) It’s a pollution-friendly Republican Legislature taking care of bad actors, aided and abetted by the business lobby. You know what I’m going to say next: Nothing will change until we change who we elect.

The Orbit lawsuit

Now here‘s an interesting case.

A Montgomery County woman has filed suit against the Astros, alleging she suffered a broken finger when her left hand was struck by a T-shirt fired from an air-powered cannon wielded by Orbit, the ballclub’s costumed mascot, at an Astros game last July.

Plaintiff Jennifer Harughty seeks damages in excess of $1 million from the Astros in the suit, which was assigned to 157th state District Court Judge Tanya Garrison.

The lawsuit, filed by Houston attorneys Jason Gibson and Casey Gibson, says Harughty has required two operations to repair damage to her left index finger, which was shattered when her hand was struck by a T-shirt fired from the Orbit character’s “bazooka-style” air cannon during the seventh inning of an Astros game July 8, 2018, at Minute Maid Park.

Harughty, 35, of Montgomery, who works as a real estate broker, said her finger remains locked in an extended position with little to no range of motion and that she continues to suffer discomfort from the injury, the lawsuit said.

Jason Gibson said the lawsuit was filed only after the Astros refused to pay Harughty’s medical bills associated with the injury.

“Nothing was going to be done,” the attorney said. “We were directed to the general counsel, and he basically said ‘file your lawsuit.’ He asked for it, and he got it. We were hoping to get this resolved, but that didn’t happen.”

The suit said Harughty was struck on the palm side of her left hand and required treatment at an emergency room after the game. She required surgery four days later to insert two screws into the injured finger and a second operation in October to remove the screws and attempt to restore range of motion to the finger.

Major League Baseball tickets include what has become known as the “baseball rule,” which states that a ticket holder “assumes all risk and danger incidental to the baseball game, and all other activities, promotions or events at the Ballpark before, during and after the baseball game, including, but not limited to, the danger of being injured by baseballs, equipment, objects or persons entering spectator areas.”

That stipulation, which is included on the Astros’ website under season ticket policies, says that by attending a game, the ticket holder releases the Astros and Major League Baseball from liability for “injuries or loss of personal property resulting from all risk and danger incidental to the baseball game and the risks or any incidents associated with crowds of people.”

Gibson said he is acquainted with Astros owner Jim Crane and with members of the Astros’ ownership group and that “everyone loves the Astros.” However, he said he did not believe that the liability waiver covers cases such as Harughty’s.

“That’s not the type of risk you assume going to a baseball game, although they may take that position,” Gibson said. “Ours will be that you don’t assume the risk of having someone fire a cannon at you that creates that much force at that proximity that can cause that kind of damage.”

A copy of the lawsuit is embedded in the story. Let me remind everyone that I Am Not A Lawyer, so what I say is simply the speculation of a layman. I find myself rather sympathetic to the plaintiff’s arguments. T-shirt cannons, as fun as they are, are totally the team’s decision to use, and not an inherent risk of attending the game as they are a recent innovation. I mean, no one was hurling things into the crowd when I was attending Yankees games back in the 70s and 80s. (Things may have occasionally been hurled out from the crowd, but that’s another story.) People understand that a batted ball may be coming their way and they need to pay attention when the game is in progress. But mascots like Orbit do their thing in between innings, when you’d think it’s safe to check your phone. And by the way, teams have been putting up more netting around the lower decks of the stadiums, to better protect people from those increasingly hard-hit balls. If teams are willing to mitigate those risks, it’s not unreasonable to think they might mitigate a non-game risk like a projectile fired at high velocity from a T-shirt cannon. My advice, for all that it’s worth, is to offer to settle the suit for the woman’s medical costs and a bit more, and to take a closer look at how those T-shirt cannons are being operated. Why make a bigger deal out of this than necessary?

Third Census lawsuit ruling against Trump administration

Once, twice, three times an injunction.

A federal judge in Maryland ruled Friday against the government’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Judge George J. Hazel found that in deciding last year to add the question, the government violated administrative law, according to The Post. The ruling will probably be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, as is expected with two similar cases.

The case has Texas connections. Lawyers representing the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the Senate Hispanic Caucus, and several Texas-based nonprofits that advocate for Latino and Asian residents have appeared before Hazel to make arguments in the case.

The plaintiffs have challenged the inclusion of the citizenship question on several fronts, alleging that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, the Enumeration Clause and a federal law that governs federal agencies and their decision-making processes.

The Post reported that in his ruling, Hazel wrote, “The unreasonableness of Defendants’ addition of a citizenship question to the Census is underscored by the lack of any genuine need for the citizenship question, the woefully deficient process that led to it, the mysterious and potentially improper political considerations that motivated the decision and the clear pretext offered to the public.”

See here and here for the previous rulings, and here for more on this case. All three rulings focused on statutory issues, with constitutional issues either not being part of the case (as with the first lawsuit) or not getting the same favorable treatment. That may bode well for the forthcoming appeal to SCOTUS, as the questions are much more narrowly defined. Here’s hoping. Daily Kos has more.

Curbside glass recycling is back

Hooray!

ScruggsImage3_ThreeWasteBins

Houston residents can resume putting glass in their curbside recycling bins, city officials said Thursday at the opening of a recycling facility in northeast Houston.

The new plant, outfitted with advanced technology including a glass cleanup system, is operated by FCC Environmental Services, a Spanish firm that received a 20-year, $37 million deal to handle the city’s curbside recycling. With the plant’s opening, Mayor Sylvester Turner has effectively capped what proved to be a years-long struggle over the city’s recycling program, generated by plunging commodities prices that coincided with multiple tight city budgets.

The funding constraints prompted Turner to strike a two-year deal with the city’s longtime recycling provider, Waste Management, in which the city accepted only paper, cardboard, plastics and metal cans in the green bins used for its curbside recycling program. The move lowered processing costs under the stopgap deal before the city inked a long-term contract with FCC.

To recycle glass, residents for the last three years were required to drop off their containers at the city’s neighborhood depositories. Those facilities remain open, but residents can immediately begin recycling their glass curbside, Solid Waste Management Director Harry Hayes said.

[…]

Under the contract with FCC, the city pays a maximum of $19 per ton to process recyclables in a weak commodities market, limiting its liability when prices decline. The city would recover a larger share of the revenue if prices for recycled material improve.

The city also owns the $23 million, 120,000-square-foot plant under the contract, though FCC will continue to manage operations and maintenance. On Thursday, the firm’s CEO, Pablo Colio, said the facility’s opening marked “the first of many (milestones) to come from our partnership” with Houston.

See here and here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s press release. I’m just glad to have this back, and I’m glad the city has a workable deal in place. Hopefully, the market for recyclable material will improve and make this even better.

How long will that TEA ethics investigation of HISD take?

Could be months, but they don’t really know.

The state investigation into allegations of Open Meetings Act and procurement violations by some Houston ISD trustees could last months, a top Texas Education Agency official said Saturday, potentially leaving the district and its superintendent search in limbo.

At a town hall attended by about 50 people, TEA Deputy Commissioner of Governance A.J. Crabill said state officials are still conducting a special accreditation investigation into HISD, with the most severe possible punishment resulting in school board members surrendering their powers to a state-appointed governing team. TEA officials have not provided a timeline for the investigation, which started in January, but Crabill said initial results likely are not imminent.

“My best guess is that the state is still several months away from a preliminary report,” Crabill said, while cautioning that he is not directly involved in the investigation.

Crabill’s comments came during a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, held at a downtown Houston church, that offered some clarity to residents concerned about the threat of sanctions looming over Texas’ largest school system. In addition to any fallout from the state investigation, HISD likely would lose local control of its school board if any one of four chronically low-performing campuses fails to meet state academic standards this year.

Crabill offered no hints as to whether HISD’s school board will fall out of power, telling the crowd it’s too early to predict outcomes of the state investigation or academic performance this year. He reassured those in attendance that an appointed board would hold power for only a few years, gradually transitioning back to a locally elected body.

The state-appointed board would be tasked with addressing a narrow set of pressing issues while carrying out the day-to-day functions of a traditional school board, Crabill said. In HISD’s case, the state-appointed board primarily would be tasked with improving student achievement at the lowest-performing campuses, where standardized test scores rank near the bottom in Texas and historical patterns suggest about two-thirds of graduates will not enroll in college.

See here, here, and here for the background. My understanding is that the accountability scores should be known by about August or so, meaning that we’ll know by then if the schools that must meet standards have done so or not. As is usually the case with these stories, I’m lost for much to say beyond I hope everything works out.

Interview with Steve Halvorson

Steve Halvorson

It’s April in an odd-numbered year, and that means that a number of cities and school districts around Texas are gearing up for their elections, which take place in May. Houston does not have such elections – ours will be this November – but several cities and ISDs near Houston do. The city of Pasadena will have its City Council elections, two years after electing a new Mayor and a Council that is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. (Pasadena Mayors serve four-year terms, so only Council members are on the ballot.) Steve Halvorson came close to tipping the balance of Pasadena City Council in favor of the Dems, losing his race by a mere nine votes. An Army veteran who retired as a Captain, Halvorson is back, this time in a three-candidate race, to take another shot at it. He’s a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and a Democratic precinct chair (his wife Jennifer is also a Democratic activist). Here’s what we talked about:

I have one more May election interview planned, and will be back as usual later with interviews for the November races.

Failing upward

Must be nice.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The day after David Whitley took office as Texas secretary of state on Dec. 17, he received a 49 percent pay raise thanks to his friend and political patron, Gov. Greg Abbott.

In a Dec. 18 letter to the Legislative Budget Board, the governor’s chief of staff said Abbott was using his authority to immediately raise Whitley’s annual salary to $197,415.

That’s almost $64,500 more than the $132,924 paid to Rolando Pablos, the Abbott appointee who was secretary of state before Whitley.

The raise, revealed in a footnote in a Legislative Budget Board document as part of the current budget process, meant Whitley still took a pay cut from his $205,000 salary as the governor’s deputy chief of staff — although the footnote said the letter was sent Dec. 8 instead of Dec. 18.

Whitley began working for Abbott in 2004 and spent almost four years as the then-attorney general’s travel aide, driving Abbott across Texas and helping him move from automobile to wheelchair. Abbott and his wife, Cecilia, grew to consider Whitley as almost part of their family, according to a recent Dallas Morning News profile of the secretary of state.

A priori, I don’t have an issue with bumping up the SOS salary so as to not give a guy a big pay cut. The problem is with the sheer incompetence. I mean, in a way I’m glad Whitley has been so bad at his job, because that has prevented him from doing any real damage so far. But the SOS has responsibilities beyond voter registrations, and I don’t see any reason to believe David Whitley will be good at any of them, either.

I’ll say this for Whitley, he’s staying positive in the face of all that pushback.

In his first public comments on the matter, acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley last week pledged to cooperate with Congress, which has opened an investigation into his error-laden voter roll review that has Democrats howling voter suppression and has threatened his confirmation as the state’s top election officer. Whitley, on a visit to a school in the Rio Grande Valley, also expressed his confidence that he will ultimately be confirmed by the Texas Senate despite opposition by every Democrat in the chamber.

“I’m not worried about that. Those senators are my friends,” Whitley told reporters after speaking to several hundred students at Edinburg North High School about the importance of voting. Whitley added that he has worked with each state senator over the last four years during his previous job overseeing the governor’s appointments across the state. But now, “all I can do is do the best job I can as secretary of state.”

While fulfilling his duties as the state’s top elections official, Whitley said he will also “fully comply” with the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee investigation that was announced a day earlier. “We will fully comply. We have absolutely nothing to hide,” Whitley said. “We’ll read it thoroughly and make sure we turn everything over as required by law. Absolutely.”

See here for the background. I have no idea why Whitley thinks Senate Dems will change their minds about him, but hey, keep hope alive. In the meantime, those Congressional Dems have set a date for those documents they want.

“We want to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, said in an interview.

The powerful committee, under Democratic control for the first time since 2011, gave acting Secretary of State David Whitley until April 11 to produce a host of documents related to his assertion in January that nearly 100,000 registered voters in Texas may not be citizens.

[…]

Raskin stopped short of threatening a subpoena if the many documents requested – including emails with Gov. Greg Abbott and Trump administration officials – aren’t turned over.

“We have the authority to order these documents to be produced and we have subpoena power if we need to use it. We’re very serious about this,” he said.

I have a hard time believing that Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton will just blithely hand over all their files to a bunch of Democrats. It’s just not consistent with everything we know about them. I think they will hand over as little as they think they can get away with, and will feel free to redact and claim executive privilege as it suits them. If this all goes off without subpoenas or a court fight, I will be surprised. We’ll know soon enough.

Wendy for Congress?

The great 2020 candidate shuffle continues.

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis says she is not running for U.S. Senate in 2020 and instead is considering a bid for the U.S. House.

“I’m looking very seriously at Congressional District 21,” the former Democratic nominee for governor said in a new podcast released Friday, referring to the traditionally Republican district that Democrats came close to flipping last year.

Davis, also a former state senator, had mulled whether to take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. But in the podcast, “The Rabble: TX Politics for the Unruly Mob,” Davis made clear she is no longer weighing a Senate campaign and reiterated her call for U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio to enter the race.

“There’s a reason I made a decision not to run for this Senate seat against John Cornyn,” Davis said on the show, which was taped Thursday. “I’ve been very candid about the fact that my dear friend Joaquin Castro is someone that I’d like to see run.

See here for some background. According to the story, Joseph Kopser, the 2018 candidate who came with four points of winning in CD21 and who also briefly flirted with running for Senate, has decided to sit out 2020. That leaves the need for a good candidate in CD21, and Wendy Davis would fit that bill nicely. She’d make for a great contrast with freshman Rep. Chip Roy, a former minion of both Ken Paxton and Ted Cruz who is doing his level best to achieve Lamar Smith levels of badness in his first term. I’d previously suggested CD25 for Wendy, but all things considered this would be best. I’m rooting for it.

Weekend link dump for April 7

A primer on spotting creeps and taking action to help someone who might need assistance in avoiding said creeps.

A deep dive into the NRA’s deep connections with Russia.

“Then it dawned upon me that there was lots of money in being a Munchausen of the right kind, and for twelve years I gave it to them hot and strong, but never too hot.”

“Congress, doing the NRA’s bidding, enacted PLCAA precisely because it feared that under generally accepted legal principles, the threat of industry liability was real.”

“Garfield phones beach mystery finally solved after 35 years”.

We really are seeing the best baseball players to ever play the game, until the even better players come along in the coming years.

The rodents of unusual size that are laying waste to the Louisiana coast.

“If you’re not vaccinated, it’s extremely easy to get measles. In an un-immunized population, one person with measles can infect 12 to 18 others. That’s way higher than other scary viruses like Ebola, HIV, or SARS. (With Ebola, one case usually leads to two others. With HIV and SARS, one case usually leads to another four.) Measles is an airborne virus, transmitted by respiratory droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of an infected person, so usually through coughing or sneezing. Small-particle aerosols from someone with measles can stay suspended in air for long periods of time after the person has left a room, and the virus can live on surfaces for up to two hours.”

RIP, Nipsey Hussle, rapper and civic activist.

“So, as the sole owner of my story, it is high time that I reclaim it — from strangers, Twitter, the pundits and the late-night hosts.”

“In the heat of battle—or, rather, a fake one—even the most hardcore fighters have got to make sure they stay out of real harm’s way. That’s why Game of Thrones’ stunt team has utilized a powerful, but also kind of adorable, safe word. One that might sound completely foreign to the people of Westeros.”

“Among other talents, President Donald Trump has a knack for revealing surprising members of the opposition. On TV, we have Jimmy Kimmel. On sports TV, Warner Wolf. In sportswriting, we have Rick Reilly. That’s right. It’s official. Rick Reilly is woke now.”

“Forested areas in cities may seem best left untouched, but it’s a common misconception that they can take care of themselves”.

“President Trump may have thought that he was done with the Mueller investigation, but it is not yet done with him.”

RIP, Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, former Senator from South Carolina.

They’re coming for Cornyn

Let’s bring it on.

Big John Cornyn

Texas Democrats are launching a multimillion-dollar initiative to help take down U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, regardless of who they ultimately choose as their nominee next year.

Emboldened after their gains in 2018 — including the closer-than-expected Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke — the state party is establishing a “Cornyn War Room” to “define Cornyn before he defines himself,” according to a memo. It is unlike anything the party has done in recent history surrounding a U.S. Senate race, and it reflects the urgency with which Texas Democrats are approaching a potentially pivotal election cycle.

“In 2020, we must seize the opportunity to flip Texas,” says the memo from the state party, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. It cites recent polling that found Texas “essentially tied” in the 2020 presidential election and that 64 percent of voters do not know or dislike Cornyn. “We cannot wait for the primary dust to settle before we launch our attacks on John Cornyn.”

The project, the memo adds, will “define Cornyn and reveal him for what he is — a coward, afraid of shadows on his right and left.”

The offensive has five fronts: digital, communications, messaging and polling, research, and data and targeting. There will be staff dedicated to the project and coordination with affiliated groups, county parties and activists.

The memo says the effort is “funded, in part, by record-breaking fundraising, including the most successful February totals in Texas Democratic Party history.” The memo does not specify the figures.

[…]

Several prominent Democrats are considering challenging Cornyn, perhaps most notably U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar, who said Tuesday she is “taking a very close look” at the race. Three lower-profile Democrats have already declared their candidacies.

With no disrespect intended to MJ Hegar, just as it was my assumption that the Senate race was Beto’s if he wanted it, it is now my assumption that it’s Joaquin’s if he wants it. Doesn’t mean anyone else has to agree with that, just that I’d expect the establishment – most of it, anyway – would fall in line with Joaquin if he follows through on his reported interest in the race. Some people are already in line, they just need Joaquin to get to the head of it. My guess is that Hegar’s “close look” is at least one part a “just in case Joaquin doesn’t run” contingency. Someone has to get to the front of that line, after all. But she might jump in anyway, and if she does she’d be formidable, and might put Joaquin on the spot. My advice to him would be to make his mind up quickly. Easy for me to say, I know, but still.

The polls in question don’t really mean much – the “essentially tied” poll tested Cornyn versus Beto, not Cornyn versus anyone else or Cornyn versus a generic Dem – but compared to what we’re used to, they’re not bad at all. The bottom line is that the conventional wisdom at this time is that Texas will be competitive in 2020. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I need to sit down every time I say that. We are in exciting times.

What the rest of this means remains to be seen. Beto’s campaign in 2018 was singular, and I have no idea how much of it is foundational to this effort. Be that as it may, this is the sort of thing that a viable, competitive statewide party needs to be doing, and having the resources for it is fantastic. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. See the TDP statement for more.

How many rail lines to Hobby do we need?

Maybe just one.

Metropolitan Transit Authority board members on Thursday agreed to plan on one light rail line to Hobby Airport, as opposed to the two initially proposed as part of the agency’s long-term transportation plan.

The first draft of the plan, dubbed Metro Moving Forward, included extensions of both the Purple Line and Green Line to Hobby. The proposal had the Purple coming from southeast Houston near MacGregor Park and the Green coming from near Gus Wortham Golf Course. The projects represented roughly $1.8 billion of the $7.5 billion Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to spend on major projects and improvements over the next 40 years.

Both of the light rail extensions enjoy support from local officials and residents along the planned routes to Hobby, but the plan of two routes to the same airport also drew criticism. Each of the routes also had skeptics, who noted the Purple Line would travel a loosely developed industrial area for part of the trip, while the Green Line’s straightest path – along Broadway – would anger some residents and force Metro to rebuild a street that the city spent money sprucing up for the Super Bowl in 2017.

[…]

Metro CEO Tom Lambert said staff will study the options and return to the board with a suggestion of which line to advance. Based on board comments, however, the Green Line had an edge. Terri Morales noted after driving the Purple Line’s proposed route, she felt there were many more clusters along the Green Line that made sense as potential stations and places where people would want to go.

Metro chairwoman Carrin Patman agreed, noting the economic potential of an East End line.

“I do not think the Purple route as currently designed to Hobby makes sense,” Patman said.

The primary selling point of the Purple Line is it would directly connect the University of Houston and Texas Southern University to the airport.

That potential left the Purple Line some life, in one scenario officials will examine. At the pressing of board member Sanjay Ramabhadran, Lambert said officials will also study if there is an intersection point where it makes sense to extend the Green and Purple light rail lines, then have one of the routes continue the trip to Hobby. That way, both neighborhoods have easier access, without the higher cost of two distinct rail lines.

“I want to see if we have that flexibility to make something work,” Ramabhadran said.

Officials have about three months to work out the details of a final plan, with the revised rail proposal, and then seek more public input. The long-range plan is tentatively expected to be approved by Metro’s board on July 29. The latest Metro can place an item on the November ballot is Aug. 19.

See here for the previous update. There’s more ground covered in the story, so go read the rest of it. I like the idea of finding a way to join the Green and Purple lines on the way to Hobby so that both can ultimately go there. Maybe that means extending the Purple line to Broadway to join it up with the extended Green line. Seems like the simplest solution, though whether it would be the best, or even a workable one, is one for Metro to figure out. We’ll know soon enough.

RIP, AAF

Maybe it’s only mostly dead, but it looks pretty dead.

After eight weeks of games and less than one season into Alliance of American Football’s existence, league owner Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all operations, league co-founder Bill Polian confirmed to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on Tuesday.

“I am extremely disappointed to learn Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all football operations of the Alliance of American Football,” Polian said in a statement Tuesday. “When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors, and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all.

“The momentum generated by our players, coaches and football staff had us well positioned for future success. Regrettably, we will not have that opportunity.”

[…]

Players are being forced to pay for their own travel back home, a source told ESPN, confirming an SI.com report.

Despite a litany of issues, ratings had remained fairly consistent for the league, with between 400,000 and 500,000 viewers often tuning in for games, according to ratings reports. And the league got a bump in attention after Johnny Manziel signed last month and was allocated to Memphis.

Manziel offered some advice to AAF players on Twitter with Tuesday’s news.

The league signed all players to three-year, non-guaranteed contracts worth $70,000 in the first year, $80,000 in the second year and $100,000 in the third year. The hope, Polian said, was that the league would send players to the NFL.

In his statement Tuesday, Polian said he’ll do “all I can” to help the league’s players achieve that.

“My thanks go out to all who made our football product so competitive and professional,” Polian said. “I am certain there are many among them destined for future success in the NFL and I look forward to doing all I can to help them in their quest.”

Ebersol told ESPN in January that they had structured the league around a “sober business plan” because he believed he had learned lessons from his father, Dick Ebersol, who helped run the first version of the XFL.

Problems, however, popped up surrounding the nascent league that was trying to be a complement to the NFL.

See here for the background. The AAF had its challenges, but I thought they’d at least finish the season. Who knows, maybe they could have gotten an infusion of cash afterwards, and been able to keep going. I feel bad for the players, who of course will get screwed out of their last paychecks and stuck with hotel, travel, and healthcare expenses, and at a much lower level for the fans in San Antonio, the eternal bridesmaids of pro football fandom. Anyone wanna lay odds on how long the rebooted XFL will last?

First city layoff notices sent

Here we go.

The city has sent pink slips to 67 Houston Fire Department cadets, the first documented layoffs resulting from Mayor Sylvester Turner’s plan to implement Proposition B.

The trainees will remain employed through June 7, according to a copy of the layoff notices sent to cadets.

“The City of Houston has experienced a sizable budget shortfall due to the implementation of Prop B,” the layoff notices read, referring to the charter amendment passed by voters last November.

The measure requires the city to pay firefighters the same as police of corresponding rank and experience. Voters approved Prop B by an 18-point margin.

“I want to assure you that the elimination of your position was a business decision and does not reflect your work performance or the value we place on your service to the City,” the layoff notices, addressed from Fire Chief Sam Peña, also read.

Next week, 47 municipal employees will receive layoff notices, Turner said in a statement, while city council will vote April 17 on whether to lay off classified firefighters under the mayor’s plan to pay for Prop B-mandated raises.

[…]

His plan for implementing the raises prompted by Prop B, unveiled last month in talks with city council members, calls for the fire department to decrease its head count by 378 for the upcoming fiscal year, including layoffs.

Turner’s plan also calls for all city departments to cut their spending by 3 percent, which is expected to lead to the layoff of about 100 municipal workers.

In recent weeks, the mayor has said no layoffs would be needed if the raises required by Prop B could be phased in over four or five years.

See here, here, and here for some background, and here for the city’s statement. It will be interesting to see how Council handles this when it comes time to vote. Other than Dwight Boykins, it’s not clear to me who’s with the firefighters on this. This will certainly provide some clarity. As far as a phase-in period goes, if the city says “give us five years and we can avoid layoffs”, while the firefighters say “no, but we can go for three years”, I confess I don’t quite understand why some kind of deal can’t be reached. Maybe that’s just me. For what it’s worth, nothing has to be set in stone till Council votes on the budget. There is still time for an agreement to be reached. How likely that is, I have no idea. But at least theoretically, it could happen.

Kulkarni 2.0

Glad to see this.

Sri Kulkarni

Democrat Sri Kulkarni, an ex-foreign service officer who last year came within five points of unseating U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, announced Thursday he is challenging the Sugar Land Republican anew in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District.

Making his first run for office in 2018, Kulkarni drew attention by repeatedly out fundraising Olson and forming a multilingual campaign team to take aim at the district’s highly diverse population. He ultimately lost by more than 14,000 votes, or about 4.9 percentage points.

To bridge the gap, Kulkarni said his efforts will largely revolve around registering new voters in the district, where he has identified roughly 70,000 unregistered residents who are eligible to vote. Kulkarni also intends to reach more low-propensity voters this cycle, he said, and harness lingering energy from his prior campaign by jumping in only five months after the November midterms.

“We have people who are pumped up to come out and knock on doors right now, and we’re a year and a half away from the election,” Kulkarni said. “People wanted change in this district, and since we’ve built all that infrastructure, it would be a waste to start from scratch.”

Before he can set his sights on Olson, however, Kulkarni must first get past the Democratic primary, where he already faces two opponents. Nyanza Moore, a Fox 26 political commentator, and Joe Walz, an Army veteran, each are seeking the Democratic nomination.

Whoever emerges to face the Republican nominee will likely begin with better odds than Kulkarni did in 2018. Viewed for years as a longshot for Democrats, the district has made it onto the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2020 battleground map, an early indication that national Democrats are willing to put resources into flipping the seat.

There’s definitely room to grow in a district that wasn’t at all on the national radar last year, but got more attention as the situation in Texas became clearer. I suspect that the promise of DCCC support for CD22 is contingent on Kulkarni winning the primary, as he has proven himself to be a strong candidate, though if one of the other two beats him I’m sure they’ll get a chance to prove themselves as well. With all due respect, I’d prefer Kulkarni, as would a number of elected officials and other party figures who have endorsed him. I’m looking forward to reviewing the FEC reports for Congressional candidates again.

They’re coming for Daylight Saving Time

Mark me down as opposed.

Rep. Lyle Larson

A powerful House committee chief on Monday said he’s building support for a constitutional amendment that would stop twice-yearly clock changes.

Rep. Lyle Larson laid out his legislation that would commit the state to following Daylight Saving Time year-round or exempting the state from it, which would make Standard Time the year-round practice.

On Nov. 5, Texans would choose between the two options. The measure would be on the ballot in an off-year, low-turnout constitutional amendment election.

Larson said in an interview he expects the tourism industry, which mostly supports Daylight Saving Time, “might spend some money to educate folks.” Potential opponents include parent and teacher groups, which are concerned that Daylight Saving endangers children by making them wait in the dark for school buses, he said.

Larson’s constitutional amendment and enabling legislation received a hearing before the House State Affairs Committee. The panel didn’t take a vote. Larson, a San Antonio Republican who is head of the House Natural Resources Committee, said he will press for one next week.

“I haven’t heard of any opposition in [State Affairs] committee,” he said.

Martha S. Habluetzel of Ingleside, with the Campaign to Opt Out of Daylight Saving Time in Texas, testified the bill has a least two big defects.

“Congress hasn’t passed a bill to allow year-round Daylight Saving Time,” she noted. Under current federal law, a state only may opt for year-round Standard Time, she said.

Potentially, Larson’s amendment could lead to a bad outcome, Habluetzel said. On Monday, the sun rose at 7:25 a.m., she noted. On Christmas Day, if Texas somehow managed to get itself on year-round Daylight Saving Time, sunrise would be at 8:25 a.m., she said.

“I don’t want the sun coming up at 8:25,” she said.

There is also a joint resolution in the Senate to abolish Daylight Saving Time, which would also require a public vote to be enacted. I’m one of those people who goes to work at a stupidly early hour. It might be daylight when I arrive in the middle of summer, especially if we abandon DST, but otherwise it’s always dark for me in the morning. As such, I appreciate having as much daytime as possible when I get home, which is when it is best experienced. I hope this effort fails, but I fear that sooner or later someone is going to succeed at killing off the late summer sunsets that I so enjoy. Whatever you think, please note that it’s really not DST that you hate, it’s standard time. Please let us not attempt to fix that which is not broken.

Revisiting El Franco Lee’s campaign finances

There’s still a lot of cash in the late Commissioner’s campaign finance account.

El Franco Lee

When 66-year-old Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee had a fatal heart attack in January 2016, his campaign account had $3.8 million. Since then, the cash has been managed by Ethel Kaye Lee, the late commissioner’s widow and campaign treasurer. Lee has invested much of the sum in securities, growing the fund at times to more than $4 million. Under Texas law, she has until 2022 to close the account.

Incumbent politicians often leave unspent campaign funds when they lose elections or die in office, but the size of Lee’s account three years after his passing presents a peculiar case. That Ethel Kaye Lee has the sole discretion to spend the fund potentially makes her one of the most powerful donors in Texas heading into the 2020 general election, University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said.

“A few hundred thousand dollars could mean the difference between a Democrat winning and losing,” Rottinghaus said. “She is in a position to exert tremendous political authority and to potentially sway a half-dozen seats all across the state.”

[…]

Under state law, dormant political campaigns must disburse their funds within six years to any of six sources: the candidate’s political party, a different candidate or political committee, the state treasury, a tax-exempt charity, a school or university for a scholarship program or as a refund to donors who gave in the final two years the candidate accepted contributions.

Ethel Lee said in a text message last week “all campaign funds have been allocated for the El Franco Lee campaign account in accordance with the guidelines from the Texas Ethics Commission. Recipients will be noted in the next compliance report.”

Lee did not respond to additional questions about the account. The next campaign reporting period, which covers the first six months of the year, ends June 30. Reports are due to the county clerk’s office two weeks later.

Lee’s campaign has made one political contribution since his death: $100,000 to Democratic attorney general candidate Justin Nelson in 2018. Nelson said he has known Ethel Lee his entire life and was grateful for the donation, which his campaign did not solicit.

Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lillie Schecter said the party would welcome donations from the Lee campaign, but has yet to receive any. Schecter said Ethel Lee does not regularly participate in party events or campaigns.

See here for the background, and here for the January 2019 report. I don’t know what will happen with all this cash, but I don’t expect much of it to be contributed to campaigns. Commissioner Lee was not known for doing that while he was alive. My guess is it will mostly go to schools and charities, which is fine. We’ll know for sure no later than 2022.

CD07: Fletcher draws an opponent

Someone was going to do it.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Republican Army veteran Wesley Hunt announced his candidacy Tuesday for Texas’ 7th Congressional District, the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston.

Hunt’s candidacy, first reported by ABC 13, comes just three months into Fletcher’s tenure. She was one of two Democrats to flip a GOP-held Texas congressional seat in 2018, beating Republican John Culberson.

In an announcement video, Hunt emphasized his military background, without mentioning Fletcher by name.

“When I flew Apaches over Iraq, I was guided by three words: duty, honor, country,” Hunt says in the video. “The men and women that I served with didn’t focus on things that divided us. We were bonded together by a shared mission that was larger than ourselves. We need more of this spirit in Washington, and that is why I am running for Congress.”

I figured it was just a matter of time before someone announced. There are only so many viable targets for Republicans in Harris County next year, and this is the biggest one. As I’ve said before, I think Fletcher starts out as the favorite, though of course things can change this far out from an election. Like every other Republican on the ballot next year, Hunt will have a running mate, Donald Trump. Hunt can say whatever he likes about duty and honor and country – I have no doubt that he means them sincerely – but good luck squaring that with Trump and his record.