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Yes, Republicans really are worried about Ted Cruz

Their actions speak volumes.

Not Ted Cruz

With a string of polls showing GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s lead slipping, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick showed up in Washington on July 25 to deliver an urgent plea to White House officials: Send President Donald Trump.

Patrick, who chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in the state, made the case that a Trump visit was needed to boost turnout for Cruz and the rest of the Texas Republican ticket. The lieutenant governor soon got his wish: Trump announced on Twitter late last month that he was planning a blowout October rally for Cruz, his former GOP rival.

The previously unreported meeting comes as senior Republicans grow increasingly concerned about the senator’s prospects in the reliably red state, with some expressing fear that an underperformance could threaten GOP candidates running further down the ballot. Cruz’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, has raised barrels of cash, closed the polling gap and emerged as a cause célèbre of liberals nationwide.

Trump’s rally is just the most public display of a Republican cavalry rushing to the senator’s aid. Cruz remains a favorite to win another term, and some senior GOP figures insist the concern is overblown. Yet the party — which has had a fraught relationship with the anti-establishment Texas senator over the years — is suddenly leaving little to chance. Behind the scenes, the White House, party leaders and a collection of conservative outside groups have begun plotting out a full-fledged effort to bolster Cruz.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who’s planning an October fundraiser for Cruz at Washington’s Capital Grille restaurant, said he had a simple directive to GOP givers.

“We’re not bluffing, this is real, and it is a serious threat,” Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said in an interview. “If Ted does his job and we do ours, I think we’ll be fine. But if we have donors sitting on the sidelines thinking that, ‘Well, this isn’t all that serious,’ or ‘I don’t need to be concerned,’ then that’s a problem.”

What caught my eye in this story was the timing of Dan Patrick’s schlep to DC to beg for help. Here’s what the five most recent polls looked like as of that July 25 date:

Cruz +9, Cruz +5, Cruz +8, Cruz +6, Cruz + 6 – Average Cruz lead = 6.8

And the five polls since then:

Cruz +2, Cruz +6, Cruz +4, Cruz +4, Cruz +1 – Average Cruz lead = 3.4

So at the time that Danno made his pilgrimage, Cruz had a solid if unspectacular lead in the publicly available polls. Since then, he’s had a much narrower, albeit still consistent, lead. On the (I hope) reasonable assumption that Patrick is not clairvoyant, it makes one wonder what he and his cronies were seeing in the polls back then that made them so worried. I mean, it could just be an abundance of caution, though that’s wildly inconsistent with Texas Republicans’ public braggadocio about their own prowess and the supposed conservatism of the state’s electorate. Since when do Texas GOPers need help from the outside to win elections? Especially in a year where the national party has about a thousand endangered Congressional seats to protect, not to mention a non-trivial number of governors, and they’d much rather be spending money to oust Democratic Senators, asking for the spigot to be tapped in support of Ted Cruz sure seems like a lot.

Unless, of course, their own data at the time was sounding an alarm for them, not just for Cruz but for however many downballot Republicans that could get left exposed by a low tide for the junior Senator. And if that was the case for them then – and maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, we just don’t know – then what is is saying now? Maybe the public data has caught up to where their own data was, and maybe things have shifted further. Again, we don’t know. That doesn’t stop us from speculating, as we wait for the next batch of poll results. My point here is simply to highlight that Republicans are aware of the political environment they’re in. It’s on us to prove they were right to be so concerned. Slate has more.

What’s a little toxic waste among friends?

No big deal, right?

On the plus side…

The criteria Texas uses to determine how much — and whether — to clean up abandoned industrial facilities, waste dumps and other polluted sites are so lax that they may allow residential homes to be built in areas that neighboring states wouldn’t even consider safe for factories or oil refineries.

That’s according to a report by the Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund set to be released on Tuesday that compares benchmarks for more than 80 different pollutants that Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Mississippi and Oklahoma use to determine whether a site is contaminated enough to warrant cleanup and how much pollution should be removed from the soil or water there before it can be re-developed.

The overarching conclusion of the report: Texas’ formulas are “substantially weaker” than those used by almost every nearby state, in part because it tolerates a greater risk of cancer. That means that some polluted Texas sites that would be eligible for cleanup in other states may not be eligible here — and if the state does decide to clean them up, it may not remove as much pollution as its neighbors.

While some neighboring states — namely Arkansas and Oklahoma — rely on federal criteria, Texas uses its own benchmarks. Overall, they are so weak that Texas allows “pollution concentrations on land designated for residential uses that Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi wouldn’t even restrict to industrial uses,” the report found.

For example, Texas’ cleanup rules say that the ground at residential properties should contain no more than 69 milligrams of the carcinogenic petrochemical benzene for every 1 kilogram of soil; Louisiana, meanwhile, only allows 3.1 milligrams of benzene per kilogram of soil — and that’s for sites intended for industrial use.

The report comes a year after heavy rains from Hurricane Harvey flooded many polluted sites in the Houston area, sparking concerns about contaminants leaching into homes and waterways. And statewide, rapid urban revitalization and population growth means many contaminated sites are being remediated and redeveloped for both commercial and residential use.

You can see that report here. This right here is the reason why uniform federal standards are needed for some things. I don’t know about you, but I would not want to find out some day that the house I bought in some spiffy new development in, say, 2019, turned out to be in the 21st century version of Love Canal. Maybe if we insist on keeping the feds at bay we could elect some state leaders who cared about this sort of thing? Just a suggestion.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 10

The Texas Progressive Alliance observes that honesty is no longer a required attribute for Republican judicial nominees as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Interview with Adrienne Bell

Adrienne Bell

CD14 covers Galveston and Jefferson counties, plus part of Brazoria. Those first two counties were the main component of what was once CD09, before Tom DeLay ripped up the map. Its heritage is Democratic – Nick Lampson represented that turf for four terms – but has since gotten away from those roots. Trying to get it back is Adrienne Bell, a native Houstonian and second grade teacher with HISD. A veteran organizer, Bell served as a Deputy Field Director with Battleground Texas, and on the Houston staff for the Obama 2012 election campaign. She and Colin Allred were the only two Texas Democrats in the first wave of endorsements from President Obama; she has since also been endorsed by Democracy for America. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for Congress so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Congressional page.

Sri Kulkarni and Asian voters

Great story.

Sri Kulkarni

Despite its diversity, [CD22] has been a Republican stronghold going back to the days when it was held by former U.S. House Speaker Tom Delay. In 2016, Donald Trump won the district by 8 percentage points while the incumbent tea-party Republican Pete Olson won re-election by nearly 20 points. On paper, this is one of those seats that looks to be immune to a Democratic wave in November.

But Sri Preston Kulkarni, who quit his post in the Trump administration last year and moved back to Texas to challenge Olson, isn’t so sure.

For years, the Texas Democratic Party has bet its future on an imminent, but never-quite-materializing demographic destiny. Eventually, the thinking goes, the rapidly growing Latino population would exercise their political muscle, turning Texas blue. But that hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, Asian Americans are another rapidly growing, low-turnout demographic in the state. As a small, relatively conservative, highly fragmented voting bloc, they’ve attracted far less attention from Democratic operatives. But Asians have undergone a massive political realignment to the left and they could hold the key to Democratic gains in the diversifying purple suburbs of Texas. At least that’s Kulkarni’s bet.

“When I first started, I was told not to bother with the Asian-American vote because they don’t turn out,” Kulkarni told the Observer. “Well, I said, maybe that’s because you’re not reaching out to them.”

[…]

Kulkarni and a small team quickly assembled an intensive outreach program to target the various sub-communities within the district’s diverse Asian-American population. With the help of hundreds of volunteers — many of them in high school and college — Kulkarni has canvassed registered AAPI voters in the district with door-knocking and phone-banking in 13 different languages. Indians are the largest Asian community in the district — more than a third of the AAPI population — and the campaign has volunteers who speak the major Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Telugu, Marathi and Gujarati.

Padma Srinivasam, a longtime Sugar Land resident who emigrated from South India, heard about Kulkarni’s campaign at one of Beto O’Rourke’s town halls in January and immediately joined his volunteer team. A native Tamil speaker, she is charged with calling many of the district’s Tamilians and introducing them to Kulkarni. People are more receptive, she says, not only when she pronounces their name properly but can switch back and forth between languages. “Language is not a barrier here for us,” Srinivasam said. “That’s how we do it, we reach out to all the people.”

Ashok Danda, a volunteer from Katy, helps coordinate outreach to the district’s Telugu speakers, including through a mass Whatsapp chat. “We all speak English, but when you add that little touch it really has an effect,” Danda said. He calls his friends, they call theirs, and soon, Danda is holding a fundraiser for 50 Telugu speakers in his living room.

Volunteers also speak Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese, which are, respectively, two other widely spoken languagesin the district. Kulkarni has made the rounds, too, in the district’s many religious centers — from the Ismaili jamatkhanas and Malayalee churches to the Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras — and reached out to younger Asians in professional groups like the South Asian Bar Association and the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.

“The diversity within the AAPI community necessitates what Sri’s campaign is doing. They’re just being super smart about it,” said Deborah Chen, the civic engagement programs director for the Organization of Chinese Americans-Greater Houston, a group dedicated to nonpartisan AAPI voter outreach. “That’s the inherent challenge for the AAPI community: It’s an American term. There’s no such thing as an Asian in Asia.”

Put simply, there’s no single way to communicate with “Asian” voters.

The Chron ran its own version of this story a couple of days later. This is the kind of strategy that makes you slap your forehead and say “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?” (And, sadly, Why aren’t we doing this better now?”) I wish Kulkarni had named names, because this kind of counter-productive “advice” should be a career-limiting move by whoever gave it. To be sure, this is labor intensive, and turning out non-habitual voters is often a difficult task, but Asian-American voters are increasingly Democratic and there’s a lot of room for growth. It makes all the sense in the world to do this, and we just may have the right parlay of candidate and political environment to make it work. Erica Greider has more.

The state of special education at HISD

Still a lot of work to be done.

Houston ISD’s quality of special education services remains in “grave” shape due to inadequate staffing, confusion among employees and a lack of accountability, according to a district-appointed committee reviewing the quality of programs provided to students with disabilities.

In a draft report expected to be presented to HISD trustees Thursday, members of the district’s Special Education Ad-Hoc Committee said the district needs to better address its many shortcomings and school board members should provide more oversight of efforts to improve delivery of special education services. The committee, comprised of district leaders, special education experts and HISD parents, has been meeting since February 2017, in response to a Houston Chronicle investigation that found a years-long pattern of Texas school districts — including HISD — denying access to special education services.

The committee’s 11-page draft report, which is expected to undergo some revisions before Thursday, echoes many of the findings documented earlier this year in a third-party review by American Institutes of Research. The nonprofit found HISD needed more staff members dedicated to special education, better clarity about delivering services to students and clearer systems for carrying out essential programs for students with disabilities, among other areas of improvement.

The committee is expected to issue several recommendations to HISD’s nine-member school board. They include ordering HISD administrators to issue a detailed response to the American Institutes of Research report and mandating regular reports to trustees about the district’s plans for improving special education services.

“It’s going to take years of persistence and commitment to special education to get the district to where we want it to be,” said HISD Trustee Anne Sung, who chaired the committee.

[…]

Kara DeRocha, an HISD parent and special education advocate who sat on the committee, said district leaders need a consistent, detailed and well-managed plan to satisfy long-frustrated families.

“The biggest problem in HISD has always been follow-through,” DeRocha said. “There are a lot of great plans that come out, but the devil is in the details and making sure they do what they said they’d do with fidelity.”

See here for all previous blogging on the topic. HISD had embraced the state’s artificial limits on special education in the past, and then-Superintendent Carranza set up the review of the district’s practices last January. The state is also working on a reform plan, but all these things will cost money. I agree with Kara DeRocha that the devil is in the details, but look at the budget appropriations first. It remains to be seen that the Lege will deal with this in an adequate manner.

On negative ads and name recognition

I confess, I’m amused by this.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is going after Democrat Beto O’Rourke for cursing during some of his campaign speeches.

The Cruz campaign released a digital ad on social media that shows O’Rourke cursing at various campaign events over the last year.

“So he’s showing up across Texas sharing his wit, his wisdom and his character,” an unidentified narrator says as clips of O’Rourke cursing are bleeped out.

The ad closes by saying O’Rourke is “showing the #@%* up.”

That’s…bad? Doesn’t that imply that Ted Cruz isn’t “showing the #@%* up”? I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to make of that, but then it seems that Ted Cruz isn’t very good at negative ads. Maybe if he had some accomplishments he could tout or something like that. I’m just spitballing here. What does it say about an incumbent when all his first moves out of the gate are to attack his opponent rather than brag about his record?

It’s clear that it’s going to be all mud from here on out, not just from Cruz but also from the big money outside agitators that prop him up as well. All of which leads to a bit of musing from RG Ratcliffe on the state of the race.

The increased attention that O’Rourke’s growing celebrity is drawing has some Democratic stalwarts worried that O’Rourke has not built a campaign that has the ability to quickly trade jab for jab. This may be problematic because poll after poll—which show the race for Senate is close—suggests that a large number of voters still do not know O’Rourke. This low voter ID allows Cruz and his allies to help define his opponent leading into Election Day.

You might want to put in a mouth guard to prevent injury as you grind your teeth at the quotes from unnamed “Democratic operatives”, but never mind that for now. My first inclination in times like these is always to look to the data, so I went through all the recent polls to see what I could find about Beto O’Rourke’s favorability and name recognition. Here’s what I got:

UT/Trib, June 25 – 16% Neutral, 24% Don’t Know

Quinnipiac, July 31 – 43% “Haven’t heard enough”

PPP, August 1 – “O’Rourke’s name recognition has grown since January as well as his favorability. In January, only 39% of voters had an opinion of him, and his favorability was 20% while 19% had an unfavorable opinion of him. Now 57% have an opinion of him with 31% having a favorable and 26% having an unfavorable opinion.”

NBC News, August 22 – 36% Unsure/Never heard among RVs

ECPS, Aug 27 – 27% Neutral, 11% Never heard

Not all polls asked about Beto’s favorability (though they nearly always asked about Cruz’s, and nearly everyone has an opinion on him), and those that did were not consistent in their question wording or their categorizations. Still, even with the variability, it’s clear that a decent number of people don’t have a firm opinion about Beto O’Rourke, and thus we get the pearl-clutching.

And to be fair, it’s a very reasonable point to make. If you don’t already have an opinion about a candidate – maybe even if you do – that means your perception is up for grabs. If you’re a politician with plenty of money – and while O’Rourke has greatly outraised Cruz, he still has lots of dough and his buddies in the conservative PAC business have bottomless coffers – you can have an effect on that. Thus the old adage about defining yourself before your opponent does it for you.

That said, I think it’s also worth contemplating how much effect negative ads, even competent ones, may have this year, especially on a high-charisma candidate like Beto O’Rourke. For one thing, as we have recently observed, not all candidates are vulnerable to negative information about them. For another, people who dislike Ted Cruz (of which there are many) and are undecided about Beto O’Rourke may be less likely to believe or be swayed by an attack on O’Rourke by Cruz. Most of all, in a year where so many people are highly motivated to deliver a message to Donald Trump, negative ads just may not mean much to them.

I’m not saying that Cruz’s barrage can’t or won’t have an effect. It probably will, though at this point it’s impossible to say how much of an effect it may have. I am saying that this is a weird year, with unusual dynamics, and it’s worth thinking this sort of thing through. I do hope Beto has a strategy for weathering the attacks, even if that strategy is “keep on keeping on”. We’re sure to get a lot more polling data over the next two months, so whatever effect there is, I’m sure we’ll see it.

Speed kills

Good long read from the Chron about our dangerous roads and highways. There’s too much to cover here, so I just want to focus on the why we all speed so much.

Houston drivers likely speed, at least in part, because they believe no one with authority is paying attention.

A Chronicle analysis of municipal court data shows that Houston-area law enforcement’s largest agencies are deploying fewer officers for road enforcement and ticketing fewer drivers, even as fatalities increased in the past two years and the area grows in population.

Houston police officers ticketed 41 percent fewer drivers in 2017 than they did in 2012, even as the number of vehicle miles traveled in Houston grew 23 percent.

That reflects a national trend of less traffic enforcement, according to Hersman, the former chairwoman of the NTSB. Federal statistics show that the share of people coming into contact with police through a traffic stop dropped about 11 percentage points from 2002 to 2011.

“We certainly understand what law enforcement is being asked to do and what they deal with, but the reality is fatalities are going up on our roadways,” Hersman said. “What we are seeing nationwide is law enforcement is not doing traffic enforcement.”

Harris County sheriff’s deputies, for example, issued 28 percent fewer speeding tickets in 2017 than they did in 2015, even though the county gained 100,000 people during that period. Houston police officers issued 16 percent fewer speeding tickets in 2017 than in 2015. Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers operating within the greater Houston region are the exception; they issued 11 percent more tickets for speeding than they did in 2015.

I mostly travel on I-10 these days, and I do see (usually unmarked) patrol cars on the shoulders, and occasionally a pulled-over vehicle getting cited. But this is the exception, and there’s nothing quite like the joy of being tailgated when you’re already doing over 70 on a road with a speed limit of 60. I don’t have any solutions to offer here – we could reduce speeding and the mayhem that accompanies it with higher levels of patrol, but of course that’s going to require more patrol officers, and that’s not in the cards. I just miss working in a part of town where I didn’t have to take highways to get to the office.

Early voting has begun for SD19 special election runoff

Don’t lose sight of this election.

Pete Gallego

A strong yet unsuccessful showing in 2016 against incumbent Carlos Uresti was enough to convince Pete Flores to take another shot at Uresti’s State Senate seat, this time in a special election to complete the former senator’s term.

With early voting beginning Monday for the Sept. 18 runoff, Flores faces Democrat and former Congressman Pete Gallego in Democratic-leaning District 19, which covers all or parts of 17 counties from Bexar to the Mexican border and the Big Bend country. But Flores was the top vote-getter in July’s first round of voting and is banking on his grassroots campaign to send him to Austin.

“Special elections are a different animal,” Flores said. “All assumptions get thrown out the window.”

[…]

When Flores challenged Uresti in 2016, he got 40 percent of the vote. “That’s a pretty good chunk of votes in Southwest Texas,” Flores said.

[…]

Ahead of the runoff, Gallego spoke with the Rivard Report at his Southside campaign office before block-walking with more than 20 volunteers and supporters, including Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar and County Democratic Chair Monica Alcantara.

“Opportunity means jobs, the economy, education,” he said. “It means making sure everyone has the opportunity to live out what I call the American dream.

“I also want to make sure we live up to promises made to the people to whom we owe a great deal of obligation – our seniors who built our country and made it what it is, and veterans who’ve done the same.”

Gallego is confident that Democrats will get out and vote on Sept. 18. He described District 19 as a “60/40 district,” with Democratic voters making up the majority.

“In an emergency special election, it may be a little tighter, but if at the end of the day we do what we need to do, we’ll win,” he said.

Flores did indeed get 40% in 2016 against the disgraced Carlos Uresti, though that was actually a bit below what other Republicans did in the district. He also got 34.35% in the July election, and while that was enough to lead the field, it was still a notch down from his 2016 performance. The four Dems in the race combined for 59.6%, to the three Republicans’ 39.4%, or right about where Gallego estimated the partisan ratio is. I’d call that a bit on the high end, as Dems won by about ten points pretty consistently in both 2012 and 2016. As such, the July performance for Dems was above the baseline by several points, more or less in line with other elections over the past year and a half. That said, special elections and runoffs are their own thing, and nothing should be taken for granted. Gallego got the Express News endorsement, and as far as I can tell is doing the kind of campaigning one needs to do in this kind of race. If you live in the district or know someone who does, you have till Friday to vote early, and Tuesday the 18th to vote at a precinct location. Don’t miss out.

Interview with Steven David

Steven David

We turn our attention this week to Congress. I covered a bunch of Congressional races in the primary season, and I won’t be revisiting them, but there are still a couple of races of interest in the area. First up is Steven David, whose CD08 covers a small part of northern Harris County and a much bigger part of Montgomery. David works for the city of Houston as a part of a business and efficiency team, tasked with reviewing processes and finding savings. He’s only the second Democrat to run against longtime incumbent Rep. Kevin Brady since Harris County was drawn into the district in 2011, and like many other Congressional candidates this cycle he was motivated by the attempt to kill off Obamacare. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for Congress so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Congressional page.

Baptist Ministers Association apologizes for its role in overturning HERO

I’m very glad to see this.

The Baptists Ministers Association of Houston & Vicinity issued a joint statement with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus saying the two groups “are building a relationship that recognizes our common equal rights struggle.”

The joint statement follows a controversy earlier this year in which the Caucus faced criticism from some members for allegedly encouraging candidates to seek endorsements from the Baptists Ministers Association, which actively supported the repeal of HERO.

According to the joint statement, the Baptist Ministers Association “apologizes for the pain [its opposition to HERO] caused the LGBTQ community, and we both look forward to ongoing discussions to prevent this from happening again as we collectively fight for the equality of all Houstonians.”

“Though we may not agree on everything, we both realize that [there] is more that unites us than divides us,” said Pastor Max Miller, president of the Baptist Ministers Association. “We are looking forward to more discussions to continue to build on this relationship. Our apology is sincere.”

[…]

Monica Roberts, who chairs the Caucus’ Faith Outreach Task Force, said in the statement that as a black trans woman, she was “happy on behalf of the Houston transgender community to convey to [the Black Ministers Association] how harmful that anti-trans rhetoric was to our community and the trans community at large.”

“We have more in common than not, in terms of wanting a Houston we can all be proud of and in which everyone’s human rights and humanity is respected and protected,” Roberts added. “Trans Houstonians needed to hear an apology, and I am happy it was given. I am pleased that these conversations will continue so that we can continue the process of getting a much-needed nondiscrimination ordinance in Houston.”

The Caucus also apologized for “not directly engaging black and brown communities,” including the Black Ministers Association.

You can see a copy of the joint statement in the story. I don’t know what led to this rapprochement, but it’s great that it happened. Putting aside the fact that HERO was an equal rights ordinance for all of Houston, the fact of the matter is that a large portion of Houston’s LGBT community is people of color, a point that Monica Roberts makes all the time on her blog and on Facebook. There was too much common ground for there to be such antagonism. Kudos to all for this achievement.

No, really, nobody likes Ted Cruz

Womp, womp.

Not Ted Cruz

President Donald Trump’s budget chief said Saturday that Republican U.S. Sen Ted Cruz could lose his seat in the November elections, suggesting that he is not likable enough, The New York Times reported.

According to the Times report, Mick Mulvaney, the leader of the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said at a closed-door meeting with Republican donors in New York City that he did not believe in the existence of a “blue wave” of Democrats overtaking many Republican-held seats but that Cruz may be in trouble.

“There’s a very real possibility we will win a race for Senate in Florida and lose a race in Texas for Senate, O.K.?” Mulvaney said, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by the Times. “I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s a possibility. How likable is a candidate? That still counts.”

[…]

To further his point on a candidate’s likability, Mulvaney mentioned last year’s special election for Senate in Alabama, when Republican Roy Moore, a former judge accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, lost to his Democratic opponent.

I mean, Mick Mulvaney is himself about as likable as a case of athlete’s foot, so this is really saying something. I’m not sure what I love more, that people feel so free to insult Ted Cruz, or that people feel so free to record such insults and leak them to reporters so the rest of us can enjoy it as well. Or maybe Mulvaney just internalized the lesson that Donald Trump taught us all, that the way to earn Ted Cruz’s affection and loyalty is to treat him like garbage. Has Mulvaney tweeted about Mrs. Cruz being ugly yet? That’s got to be next.

Weekend link dump for September 9

Nice try, guys, but this is not how you “fix” baseball.

“It turns out Lisa didn’t get sung ‘Happy Birthday’ by Michel Jackson on that episode of The Simpsons.”

“But as is so often the case, the accusation that was made falsely against Democrats turns out to be true of Trump. For all his vaunted populism, he is filled with contempt for average people in general and his own supporters in particular.”

“Here, for your perusal and bitter judgment, is a list of the accidental TV villains who grind our gears the most.”

“This will unquestionably be a big part of the story of what brought Russia and President Trump together. It’s why they focused so much attention on the NRA in the first place: openness to corruption is always an indicator for openness to subversion. The NRA, whatever its role in promoting gun extremism, is also a huge grifting operation. The Russians knew and know just who they were dealing with.”

“Viral Political Ads May Not Be As Persuasive As You Think”.

Sen. Lindsay Graham goes full lickspittle.

Pro tip: Don’t normalize Steve Bannon. Repeat as needed until the message sinks in. Scalzi and Roy have some further thoughts about this.

Sure must be fun working at the White House these days.

Fox News is trash, part one million.

This is why people hate lawyers, College Football edition.

“Same-sex couple paints their house rainbow to troll their homophobic neighbors”.

“Former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore filed a $95 million lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen and Showtime on Wednesday, alleging that he was duped into appearing on Who Is America?” My response: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

RIP, Burt Reynolds, legendary movie star.

It’s racists and Russian stooges all the way down at the Daily Caller.

“Heathrow Staff Pay Tribute To Freddie Mercury On His 72nd Birthday”.

How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?”

Harris County 2018 voter registration numbers

From the inbox:

Thank you Harris County Voter Registration Division and Harris County Volunteer Deputy Voter Registrars for your passion, dedication, and commitment in registering eligible voters!


Current number registered:   2,291,037
Voters registered in 2017:      67,753
Voters registered in 2018:      41,369

That was from a couple of weeks ago, just before the registration challenge debacle. The registration deadline for this November is October 9, so there’s still time for that number to increase. Here’s how it looks over the past few cycles:


Year   Registered   Change
==========================
2002    1,875,777
2004    1,876,296      521
2006    1,902,822   25,526
2008    1,892,656  -10,166
2010    1,917,534   24,978
2012    1,942,566   25,032
2014    2,044,361  101,795
2016    2,182,980  138,619
2018    2,291,037  108,057

It’s crazy that in the first ten years of this century, the total number of registered voters in the county only increased by a net of 67K. In the next six years after that, up 350K and counting. Having a Tax Assessor that thought registering voters was more important than purging them sure makes a difference, doesn’t it? To be clear, while Ann Harris Bennett gets the credit for this cycle, Mike Sullivan was in the office for the 2014 and 2016 periods, so he gets his props as well.

As you know, I believe the increases in registration are directly related to the improved Democratic performance in 2016, and key to our chances this year. So to everyone who’s out there registering people, I say “thanks”, and “keep up the good work”. The numbers tell the story.

How many police forces do we need?

It’s an age-old question.

Harris County could save millions of dollars a year by consolidating overlapping law enforcement agencies, from sharing technological resources to reallocating duties from constables to the sheriff’s department, according to a report by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.

The report, which was released Thursday, revives several decades-old ideas to combine resources between law enforcement agencies in Harris County, despite likely opposition from the agencies and county government, which would have the ultimate authority in enacting many of the proposed changes.

[…]

Kinder studied the 60 law enforcement agencies that form a patchwork of separate but sometimes overlapping patrols within Harris County, including the sheriff’s office, the Houston Police Department, constables’ offices, school district police departments and smaller municipal police departments. Those agencies spend a combined $1.6 billion per year on law enforcement, according to the report.

“We do have a system that, for all intents and purposes, is working fairly well,” Kinder researcher Kyle Shelton said. “But there are clearly places where there are overlaps and places where we could see what efficiencies would work.”

Among ideas included in the report are a merger of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s police department with the Houston Police Department, and the consolidation of smaller municipal police departments into a larger network.

One of the report’s most aggressive ideas to consolidate would be to move patrol duties from the eight Harris County constables’ offices to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Political opposition to that idea would be too difficult to overcome because agencies would have to cede governing power, [County Commissioner Steve] Radack said.

“People can study it and study it and study it, but I can assure you … the people that are really familiar with this are all going to say, no” said Radack, who was formerly the Precinct 5 constable.

You can see the report here. Two points I would add: One, this is not limited to Harris County. Two, the list above leaves out police departments associated with universities, community colleges, and medical schools. There’s a lot of law enforcement agencies out there.

I find it interesting that the main argument against any sort of consolidation is that there would be political opposition to it, as Commissioner Radack notes. I don’t doubt that he’s right, but it’s not a reason, it’s a justification. Some reforms would require legislative assistance – Constables are constitutional offices, after all – while others shouldn’t need anything more than various entities working together. I’m pretty sure that there’s a dollar figure that could be attached to each recommendation in that report. Maybe if we start talking about it, we can decide what if any of these ideas are really worth pursuing, even in the face of political opposition.

The beer boom continues

Raise a glass.

There were a dozen craft breweries across the Houston metro before 2013, and that seemed like a lot at the time.

Now, there are 52.

The new breweries have added 344,487 square feet of industrial space — roughly the size of a 14-story office building — to the local market, according to a new report from commercial real estate firm NAI Partners.

[…]

NAI said cities in Texas are “wildly underserved.” Only 12 of the 52 breweries are inside the 610 Loop, the report said, citing data from the Houston Beer Guide.

The report is here. On the one hand, I’m a little surprised there aren’t more breweries inside the loop, since they’re very much a neighborhood business and benefit from having a lot of potential customers in close proximity. On the other hand, real estate prices are such that it’s practically a miracle any breweries are inside the loop. However you look at it, I do agree there’s room in the market for further growth. We were behind the curve on this trend for a long time, and we’re still catching up.

The Atlantic on CD07

I have three things to say about this:

Lizzie Fletcher

On a Saturday morning in Houston, the high was 94 degrees with a chance of rain. It was hardly friendly weather for canvassing—the door-knocking, yard sign–delivering, get-out-the-vote efforts that define a politician’s grassroots network. Yet dozens of Seventh District residents, sporting lizzie fletcher for congress T-shirts, had happily crammed into a small office room on Richmond Avenue, awaiting their marching orders.

Fletcher stood on a step stool at the front of the room. The 43-year-old cuts an unconventional profile in the Seventh—female, liberal, inexperienced. Any one of those descriptors should be a nonstarter in this district, which a handsome blue blood named George H. W. Bush first turned Republican in 1966. That Bush has had only two successors in nearly five decades—both white, conservative men—appears testament to that fact.

But in a nod to the vast strangeness of 2018, Democrats see the Seventh as one of their best shots at taking the House. Indeed, Texas is changing. Across the state, Republican incumbents including Representative John Culberson here in the Seventh; Representatives Pete Sessions and Will Hurd; and even Senator Ted Cruz are struggling to fend off Democratic challengers. Suddenly, the idea of a progressive woman, a political outsider, unseating an 18-year incumbent like Culberson doesn’t feel so far-fetched.

On this Saturday in August, wearing a campaign T-shirt, a black miniskirt, and flip-flops, Fletcher prepped her volunteers by invoking the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. It was exactly one year before that Harvey had dumped as much as 51 inches of rain on Houston, killing 75 people in Texas, and the trauma still ran deep. “For so many of us, Harvey was really a low point and a high point of our lives in Houston,” she said. The low point was obvious. But the high point, she said, was that in this community, “if you could help, you did.”

She didn’t have to adopt a hyper-partisan caricature—rallying for Donald Trump’s impeachment, say, or decrying his big tax cut for the wealthy—to energize the room. Rather, she compared volunteer efforts in the aftermath of Harvey to that day’s canvassing. “We are in a crisis in our country,” she said, her slight Southern lilt elongating her i’s. “And the best way—the best way—to do something about it is to do what y’all are doing today: Just show up.”

[…]

Today the district claims one of the most ethnically and economically diverse populations in Houston. It is 38 percent white, 31 percent Latino, 12 percent African American, and 10 percent Asian. To drive through the Seventh is to glimpse a vast number of takes on American life. The district touches some of the ritziest parts of Houston—the flashy mansions of River Oaks, the designer-stocked Galleria. Track a few miles southwest and you’ll find Gulfton, where Indian and Pakistani restaurants line the so-called Gandhi district and a single street might host Ethiopian and Guatemalan churches. Spin back up I-10 and there’s the Barker Reservoir, behind which many upper-middle-class homes were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.

As the state undergoes a demographic transformation with the political shifts to match, the question for some political analysts has become not if Texas will turn blue, but when. So it has with the Seventh: The decades-long Republican stronghold swung for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and Democrats have since zeroed in on it as a linchpin of their map to secure the House majority. “Any blue wave from Texas to Washington, including California, is going to start with this race,” the longtime Democratic lobbyist Scott Eckart told me. “If Culberson loses, I think all the others will follow.”

So far, polling suggests that, for Democrats, the Seventh is in fact within reach. Both Fletcher’s and Culberson’s internal polling clocks the race within the margin of error, according to three sources to whom the numbers have been relayed. Which means the pressure is on for Fletcher to run the perfect campaign not just for her own sake, but for House Democrats writ large.

“The political momentum here has shifted, and Lizzie is the ideal person to capitalize on that,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Democratic strategist based in the district. “She’s a progressive woman, she’s young, she’s smart. She checks off every box.”

[…]

This is in part why her campaign is less a collection of partisan talking points and more a commentary on local issues such as flood relief: She’s long been personally privy to the cyclical trauma of flooding in Harris County. Culberson “has been my rep since he was first elected in 2001,” Fletcher told me. “That year, we had Tropical Storm Allison. And I was working downtown at the time, and downtown flooded, my building flooded, people died. It was just this really incredible event that kind of snuck up on us.

“So he’s been on notice since he took office that this was something we needed to deal with,” she continued. “I didn’t ever agree with his positions in the first place … but what we are dealing with, in terms of flooding, is a years-long problem, and Culberson has been completely missing from the discussion.”

For Fletcher, it makes one of the key pro-Culberson arguments—that he’s a senior member of the powerful Appropriations Committee—unconvincing. “As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee … in the majority, why is it that two Democrats in our community are bringing the bill to fund all of our flood-mitigation projects, and he won’t sign on?” she said. “I think if you ask anybody, they’ll say we haven’t seen him use that to benefit our community, in all the years he’s been on it.”

1. The subhed on this article is “The Republican incumbent John Culberson has held the minority-majority Seventh Congressional District for almost two decades, but the Democrat Lizzie Fletcher hopes to finally turn out progressives and minorities.” So naturally I wanted to look at historic turnout numbers:


Year   CD07   County  Ratio
===========================
2016  67.04    61.33   1.09
2014  39.05    33.65   1.16
2012  67.72    61.99   1.09
2010  49.42    41.67   1.19
2008  70.61    62.81   1.12
2006  40.65    31.59   1.29
2004  66.87    58.03   1.15
2002  37.37    35.01   1.08

So turnout in CD07 is always higher than turnout in Harris County as a whole, ten to fifteen percent more in Presidential years and fifteen to thirty percent more in most non-Presidential years. That’s probably due to non-Presidential year turnout being generally lower in more Democratic areas. There’s still plenty of room for turnout to improve here. The goal of course will be to make sure that the reason for the bump in turnout is primarily due to voters who are friendlier to Fletcher than to Culberson.

2. As I’m sure you can guess, the prospect of poll data in CD07 is irresistible to me. We do have one publicly released poll that showed a two-point lead for Culberson. My guess is that the others mentioned in the story are all around that same margin, most likely all with Culberson in the lead. It’s all consistent with the larger picture. I do wonder, if the current slump in Trump’s approval ratings persists, if we’ll start to see more polls of Congressional districts being made public.

3. I do like the idea of turning Culberson’s tenure on the Appropriations Committee against him. If he couldn’t or didn’t deliver when his district and much of the rest of the region suffered such catastrophic floods as Allison and Harvey, then what good is he and his vaunted seniority and position of influence? It’s an argument that has a chance of catching on with people who aren’t congenital Democrats, and a good argument to make in an anti-incumbent year. Doesn’t mean it will work, or that it will be enough even if it does work, but it’s a good place to start.

Four makes seven

Rep. Four Price files for Speaker, making him the sixth Republican and seventh member to do so.

Rep. Four Price

State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, filed Thursday for speaker of the Texas House, making him the sixth Republican to enter an already crowded race to replace the retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Having successfully worked for the last four sessions with my colleagues from across our state to pass major legislation and focus on issues of importance to all Texans, I am eager to seek this leadership position in the Texas House of Representatives,” he said in a statement. “Looking towards the future, I truly believe the Texas House will play a leading role in making the decisions that keep Texas on the path to prosperity.”

Price enters a speaker’s race that already includes Republicans Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford, John Zerwas of Richmond, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches and Drew Darby of San Angelo, as well as Democrat Eric Johnson of Dallas.

As with the other Republicans, I have no official opinion on Rep. Price, though I will note that he was endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC when he first ran for office. Honestly, at this point I’d rather see another villain type declare for Speaker, as that would help divide the bad-guy vote some more. The goal here is for the next Speaker to need Democratic help to get there, so the more division on that side, the better.

Ron Reynolds reports to jail

We’ll see how long a year lasts.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

State Rep. Ron Reynolds has turned himself in to authorities in Montgomery County to begin serving his year-long jail sentence.

Reynolds, a Democrat from Missouri City, was convicted in 2015 on misdemeanor charges for illegally soliciting clients for his personal injury practice and sentenced to a year in jail. He was out on an appellate bond for years while his case wound through the appeals process.

On Friday morning, he had a hearing in Montgomery County after all his appeals were denied, and he turned himself in, according to a court clerk. He has not resigned his seat and state law does not force resignations for misdemeanor convictions, meaning it’s likely he’ll be in jail when the next session of the Texas Legislature convenes in January.

Reynolds has won several elections since his conviction, including his primary in March. He faces no opposition in the general election this November.

The exact length of time he will spend behind bars, however, remains uncertain. Though he was sentenced to one year, county jails will often allow “good time credit” which can drastically cut time served in some cases. Joel Daniels, the main prosecutor in Reynolds’ trial and chief of the white collar division in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, said that decision is left up to the sheriff.

“The sheriff can have him serve day-for-day, he can give him credit for two days for every day that he serves or three days,” he said. “It’s really just on the discretion of the sheriff and it depends on Mr. Reynolds’ behavior.”

If Reynolds served only one day of every three of his sentence, he could conceivably get out of jail just one or two days before the next legislative session starts on Jan. 8.

[…]

On Friday, a Texas Democratic Party leader said Reynolds was taking responsibility for his actions.

“No politician is above the law,” said Manny Garcia, the party’s deputy executive director. “Today, Rep. Reynolds took responsibility for his actions and is facing the consequences, when will indicted Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton do the same?”

Paxton is facing a criminal trial for securities fraud charges, but has not been convicted of a crime.

Garcia said he had “no further comment at this time” when asked if the party saw any need for Reynolds to resign or face disciplinary action. State Rep. Chris Turner, head of the House Democratic Caucus, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

See here for the previous update. You know where I stand on this, so I will just note that there’s an excellent chance Reynolds will be absent when the next Speaker is chosen. Given how Democrats are working to be in position to affect the election of the next Speaker, being shy a member diminishes their influence, even if only at the margins. I sympathize with Manny Garcia, as the TDP has zero power to make Reynolds do anything, but until Ken Paxton is convicted of something, this is not an apt comparison. Reynolds should have taken responsibility for his actions a long time ago. And judging by the press release I got in my inbox shortly after this news hit, the Republicans are already making hay about it, as well they should. We wouldn’t be in this position now if Reynolds had stepped down or declined to run again this year.

How can Beto win?

This is from the weekly newsletter put out by G. Elliott Morris:

Let’s talk about voter turnout in Texas. The statewide voting-agedpopulation is a mixed bag, made up of 45% White, 37% Hispanic, 11% Black, and 6% Asian/other residents, according to projections from the Center for American Progress. On its face, the majority-minority status of the state indicates that Democrats, who have an edge among non-white voters, would prosper in the state. Obviously, that’s not the case. This is because the actual electorate is much redder, made up of 61% White, 21% Hispanic, 13% Black, and 5% Asian voters according again to the CAP. Notably, the share of white voters was down 2% in 2016 compared to 2012.

Okay, Texas voters are Whiter than the state as a whole. So what? Well, this also means that the electorate is more Republican than the state as a whole. Let’s run a scenario: what if all voting-aged Texans voted, and voted the same way for Rs and Ds that they did in 2016? A table:

You can see that I’ve decreased the share of the electorate that is White from roughly 61% to 45% and nearly doubled the share of Hispanic voters (column comp.2016). In the highlighted yellow boxes are the findings: If all voting-aged Texas voted with the same partisan leanings as the state’s electorate alone in 2016, Donald Trump would have won the state by just 0.1 percentage points. That’s as close as his margin in Wisconsin. Texas would be a true swing state.

In 2018, this means that Senator Ted Cruz — who enjoyed a hypothesized 8 percentage point incumbency advantage — would be running roughly even with Rep. Beto O’Rourke, even in the current national environment where Democrats are beating Republicans by roughly 8 percentage points in the national environment.

But everyone doesn’t vote. Instead, demographics are partially destiny in determining outcomes in state elections. For the sake of the game, let’s run a proposed 2018 election where demographics look more like the 2016 electorate than the 2016 “all voters” scenario — because we have no evidence to believe that Hispanic turnout in the state is about to increase by roughly 75 percent — but decrease the share of non-college White turnout (college-educated voters are more engaged in midterm elections, but so are whites.)

For O’Rourke to run even with Cruz in November, college-educated Whites would need to make up about 33% of the electorate, non-college Whites 29%, Hispanics 21%, Black voters 13%, Asian/others 5%. This is not totally out of the questions, but you can see why I’m cautious about being bullish on Beto. Of course, these numbers are dynamic: if the partisan lean of the electorate shifts left, then the share of white voters that Cruz needs to win increases, etc.

Morris gives Beto a 32% chance of winning. This is a way of quantifying the old adage about Texas being not a Republican state but a non-voting state. I think it’s fair to say that this year is a test of that. If you want to see more of Morris’ newsletter or sign up to receive it yourself, go here.

The hearing for the lawsuit to kill Obamacare

Here we go again.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

At the hearing Wednesday, Texas aimed to convince U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor to block the law across the country as it continues to fight a months- or years-long legal case that could land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Citing rising health care premiums, Texas says such an injunction is necessary to preserve state sovereignty and to relieve the burden on residents forced to purchase expensive insurance coverage. California counters that temporarily blocking or ending the law would cause more harm to the millions of people insured under it, particularly the 133 million people the state says enjoy the law’s protections for pre-existing conditions. The U.S. Department of Justice, which has taken up many of Texas’ positions in the case, nonetheless sided with California, arguing that an immediate injunction would throw the health care system into chaos.

[…]

Inside the courtroom, where protesters’ shouts were inaudible, Darren McCarty, an assistant attorney general for Texas, argued that “the policies, the merits of the ACA are not on trial here” — just the legality. In that legal argument, McCarty leaned heavily on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, which upheld the law by construing the “individual mandate,” a penalty for not purchasing insurance, as a tax that Congress has the power to levy. Texas argues that after Congress lowered that fee to $0 in a slate of December 2017 tax cuts, the fee is no longer a tax and thus no longer constitutional. With it must go the rest of the law, the state claims.

“There is no more tax to provide constitutional cover to the individual mandate,” McCarty said. “Once the individual mandate falls, the entire ACA falls.”

California countered that a tax can be a tax even if it doesn’t collect revenue at all times. And, attorneys for the state claim, even if the individual mandate is unconstitutional, the court should let lie “hundreds of perfectly lawful sections,” argued Nimrod Elias, deputy attorney general for California.

The case will likely turn on that question of “severability”— whether one slice of a law, if ruled unconstitutional, must necessarily doom the rest. O’Connor, who nodded along carefully throughout the hearing, lobbed most of his questions at the California attorneys, and many of them focused on whether the various pieces of Obamacare can be unentangled.

Elias said that in the vast majority of cases, the Supreme Court acts with “a scalpel, not a sledgehammer,” leaving in place most of a law even if one provision must be struck. The Texas coalition pointed to a more recent case in which the high court struck an entire law based on a narrow challenge.

O’Connor — a George W. Bush-appointee who has ruled against Obamacare several times, albeit on narrower grounds — also honed in on the question of legislative intent. Texas argued that the individual mandate was a critical piece of the law’s original version. But California argued that in 2017, in gutting the individual mandate without touching the rest of the law, lawmakers made it clear they wanted the law to persist without that provision.

“Would the legislature prefer what is left in statute to no statute at all?” Elias questioned. “We know what Congress intended based on what Congress actually did.”

See here and here for some background. Justin Nelson was at the hearing as well, pressing his attack on Paxton for his ideological assault on so many people’s health care. That really deserves more coverage, but the fact that most everyone outside of Paxton’s bubble thinks his legal argument is ridiculous is probably helping to keep the story on a lower priority. (Well, that and the unending Wurlitzer shitshow that is the Trump administration.) I mean, I may not be a fancypants lawyer, but it sure seems to me that eight years of Republicans vowing to repeal Obamacare plus the entire summer of 2017 trying to repeal Obamacare plus the abject failure to repeal Obamacare would suggest that the Republicans did not intend to repeal Obamacare with the bill that they finally did pass. If they could have they would have, but they couldn’t so they didn’t. I don’t know what else there is to say, but we’re going to have to wait till after the November elections – wouldn’t be prudent to do that before people voted, you know – to find out what this hand-picked judge thinks. Ken Janda, the Dallas Observer, and ThinkProgress have more.

The city has its own bail lawsuit

It’s not going well.

Houston city officials intentionally destroyed evidence, wiping crucial data from the computer drives of top police commanders that is potentially relevant to a lawsuit about the detention of suspects beyond the 48-hour deadline for a magistrate hearing, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt’s rare ruling last week means that if the case goes to trial, jurors will receive an “adverse instruction” about the records destruction. The jury must infer as fact that authorities destroyed evidence, knowingly and routinely detained people more than 48 hours without a probable cause hearing, and acted with deliberate indifference to the fact that they were violating defendants’ constitutional rights, the judge ruled.

The judge did not accuse the city of destroying evidence specifically to help it gain an advantage in the lawsuit, but the action is a blow to any defense the city could mount.

[…]

The 2016 class-action lawsuit challenged the city’s treatment of thousands of people jailed for days after warrantless arrests between January 2014 and December 2016. The complaint accuses officials of false imprisonment and alleges that they violated defendants’ constitutional rights to equal protection and a determination of probable cause by a judge. The case was brought by Civil Rights Corps and the Texas Fair Defense Project — the groups that led the landmark suit challenging Harris County’s bail practices — and lawyers from the Houston firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

The suit was filed after the January 2016 arrests of Juan Hernandez, who was held 49 hours before seeing a magistrate on an assault charge, and James Dossett, who spent 59 hours in custody before facing a hearing officer via videolink on a charge of possession of a controlled substance. After a week in custody, Hernandez pleaded guilty. Authorities ultimately dropped the charges against Dossett when police failed to prove he had drugs.

The lawsuit also cites arrests in which defendants were held for more than 10 days before receiving a probable cause hearing. Overcrowding at the county jail creates a bottleneck at the city facility, the suit said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that the city had a “broad, longstanding, and consistent policy of refusing to release warrantless arrestees” even when more than 48 hours had passed since their arrests, and that the city failed to provide thousands of records relevant to this policy and practice.

See here for some background, and here for an earlier Chron story (embedded in this one and the basis of that post) on the subject. I’m appalled by what’s in this story, which I don’t think can be adequately explained by simple incompetence on the city’s part. There needs to be a serious investigation of who was responsible for what, and consequences to follow. This is unacceptable at every level. The city needs to throw itself on the mercy of the court and make an extremely generous settlement offer to the defendants.

Interview with Lisa Seger

Lisa Seger

Lisa Seger, who is running for HD03 in Montgomery and Waller Counties, is an uncommon candidate in an unexpected place. She and her husband have owned and operated Blue Heron Farm in Field Store Community of Waller County since 2006. The farm’s main business is goats, which they raise for milk and cheese. She’s also active in dog rescue in Montgomery County. Like many of the candidate this cycle, she was spurred to run by the events of 2016 and the fact that there had been no Democratic candidates running in HD03 since the district was drawn in 2011. As I have noted before, Seger and my wife Tiffany are friends, and we are regular customers of Blue Heron’s goat cheese, which I can attest is quite tasty. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

HFD Chief warns of layoffs

To be fair, this isn’t the first time we have heard this.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña on Tuesday warned of dire consequences — including possible layoffs of more than 800 firefighters and deferred maintenance or upgrades on aging equipment, if voters approve the firefighters’ pay parity initiative on the November ballot.

Peña’s warning came during a City Council Committee on Budget & Fiscal Affairs meeting to provide city leaders with their first look at how the Houston Fire Department might handle the costs of the ballot measure, which proposes to raise firefighter pay to that of their police peers.

In its latest estimate, the Turner administration says approval of the referendum would cost the city $98 million in its first year and would lead to cuts at the fire department as well as in other city agencies.

“A reduction of this size in personnel cannot be accomplished without a major restructuring of the current operations,” said Tantri Emo, director of the city’s finance department. Emo said the city’s $98 million estimate million came from comparing salaries of firefighters and police at similar ranks, and said the city did not yet have estimates that might factor in costs to the city’s pension system.

Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton questioned the city’s calculation on how much pay parity would actually cost taxpayers. Lancton repeated past assertions that the city refused to negotiate or work with firefighters on issues ranging from pay to operations to equipment, but he did not provide the union’s cost estimates.

Emphasis mine. We all agree that this referendum will cost the city some money if passed, right? I mean, there’d be literally no point for the HPFFA to push for it if it didn’t mean higher pay for their members. As such, the fact that the union has refused to provide their own number whenever the city has cited one is telling. Obviously, the firefighters are going to argue that the city is exaggerating the cost, and they’re very likely correct about that. But it’s one thing to say “oh, it will only cost $10-20 million”, which the city probably could afford with at most minimal cuts, and another entirely to say “oh, it will only cost $50-60 million”, which the city can’t do without real cuts and starts to sound pretty expensive besides. If the firefighters can’t or won’t provide their own estimate of how much this will cost the city – and let’s be real, they most certainly do have their own estimate – then the city’s number is the one we must accept. And that’s a number that will absolutely lead to job cuts, including among HFD’s ranks.

Will this affect the outcome of the election? Maybe, if the city can get that message out. Holding a few town halls is nice and appreciated, but it’s not going to spread the message far and wide. Remember, nearly 400,000 ballots were cast in the city in 2010, with over 330K votes tallied in the Renew Houston and red light camera elections. You’re not going to reach that many people without significant outreach, and so far all I’ve seen is one pro-firefighter web ad. If there’s a campaign in the works, it’s going to need to get going soon.

“Fetal remains” law tossed

Very good.

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra struck down a Texas law on Wednesday that would have required hospitals and clinics to bury cremate fetal remains, causing another courtroom setback for state leaders and anti-abortion groups.

Under Senate Bill 8, passed in 2017, health care facilities including hospitals and abortion clinics would be required to bury or cremate any fetal remains — whether from abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or treatments for ectopic pregnancy regardless of patients’ personal wishes or beliefs. Legislators passed the bill following a ruling that year by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that struck down a similar rule implemented by the Texas Department of State Health Services. At the time Sparks said it was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

Over the course of a nearly 30-minute hearing at a federal court in Austin on Wednesday, Ezra gave a synopsis of the ruling, calling the case “a very emotional topic.” The requirement would have been challenging for health providers, in part because it would be difficult to find medical waste vendors willing to participate. In addition, Ezra expressed wariness about the state having to reach out to private cemeteries to help with fetal remain disposals.

“The implementation of this law, as I have pointed out, would cause and, if allowed to go into effect, would be a violation of a woman’s right to obtain a legal abortion under the law as it stands today,” Ezra said.

[…]

Multiple doctors and health advocates who testified said women often don’t ask what happens to their fetal tissue, since they assume it’ll be treated like medical waste. Providers also said they have experienced challenges trying to find medical waste vendors willing to work with their clinics. A top reason, they said, is that vendors are unwilling to endure backlash and harassment from anti-abortion advocates.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m terribly amused by the fact that the zealotry of the anti-abortion movement was cited as a reason that this law they supported is illegal. If there’s a Greek goddess of irony, she’s pouring herself a glass of wine right now. Of course the state will appeal, and we know that the Fifth Circuit and soon SCOTUS are places where hope goes to be strangled in a back alley. But until then we have this, so let’s celebrate while we still can. The Observer has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 3

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

(more…)

The 2006 question

It always comes back to turnout.

It was the worst day of the worst month of the worst season in years for Republicans hoping to mitigate political damage in this fall’s midterm elections. And Texas political operatives were left stunned as they processed the ramifications.

In one Tuesday afternoon, a Virginia jury found President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty of financial crimes, Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to his own financial and campaign law violations, and a GOP congressman – U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California – found himself indicted on a slew of charges.

But instead of serving as some sort of seminal turning point of the 2018 cycle, operatives from both parties interviewed by The Texas Tribune viewed these events as merely a further deterioration of an already grim situation for Republicans. The damage to the GOP brand is now at a crisis point, and many in politics wonder if the party might salvage its control of the U.S. House.

“It’s a drip, drip, drip,” said Beto Cardenas, a Houston lawyer and political insider with connections to both parties. “At what point does your pond turn into a lake?”

Washington Democrats have long pushed back against comparisons to 2006, when Democrats swept away Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. Back then, the Democrats faced less of a disadvantage due to gerrymandering. And those were the pre-super PAC days, meaning the Republican financial advantage was less daunting.

But now the battle cry of of 2006 – “culture of corruption” – and the comparisons are back. And Democrats are showing signs of confidence.

Texas is, in part, why.

We’ve discussed this before, but the reason why I have harped on 2006 in the past is because Republican turnout was low, or at least lower than the other off years this century. If Republicans turn out this year like it’s 2006, that’s 300K to 500K fewer votes statewide that Dems need to get to have a chance at winning. It’s also fewer votes that candidates in the contested legislative races need to win.

I don’t know if Republican turnout will be lower than usual. I feel confident that it won’t be like 2010, but if 2014 is their baseline, I could see that happening. It may be that they won’t feel a great sense of urgency. It may be that the lack of a Democratic president will tamp them down. It may be that the continued scandal show will turn some of them off. It may be that none of it has any effect, or even that it galvanizes them. Maybe something will happen to put Democrats on the defensive. Who knows?

As things stand right now, I think Republicans are in line to have average to average-minus turnout, maybe something between 2006 and 2014. Could be better, could be worse, for each side. We’ve seen multiple recent examples of events having big effects late in the cycle, so whatever we think is happening now may well not be true in two months. Think of 2006 as a framing device. If we continue to talk about it as a possible model for this year, it’s a good thing.

“The Rise and Fall of Dockless Bike Sharing in Dallas”

Amazing story.

Several dockless bike-share companies first converged on Dallas last August after promising local officials that their services would come at no cost to taxpayers, and the impact was immediate. The dockless feature allowed bike-share companies to distribute its fleet untethered and controlled by apps. By February, the presence of five bike share companies (VBike, Spin, LimeBike and Beijing-based companies Ofo and Mobike) had transformed Dallas from the largest American city without a bike-share system to the city boasting the largest fleet in North America—a whopping 18,000 bikes, way more than New York City’s 12,000 or Seattle’s 10,000—and Dallas was deemed the “bike-share capital of America” by D Magazine. “Let’s not screw this up,” they warned in February.

But it was clear from the beginning that the program was growing way too big and way too fast. The city reported in February that it had received thousands of comments regarding its dockless bike-share program through its 311 phone number for constiuents, with commenters complaining about bikes that were vandalized, left behind in neighborhoods for extended periods, blocking sidewalks, or mounting in “excessive” numbers. “Some of the bikes are left for days, weeks, or months, in some cases without being moved,” Jared White, who manages alternative transportation in the Dallas Department of Transportation, told CNN in February.

“It’s making people a little bit hostile,” Fran Badgett, the owner of Transit Bicycle Company in Dallas, also told CNN. “From my front door you can see about 200 bikes. Not a single one is parked in a way I’d call respectful or helpful.”

In March, the Wall Street Journal wrote that Dallas was “ground zero for a nascent national bike-share war,” as bike-share companies stormed cities across the country in the past year or so, hoping to capitalize on a booming new business while simultaneously flooding the market beyond sustainability. Companies operating in Washington, D.C. have lost half their fleet due to theft. One dockless company recently pulled out of France, citing the “mass destruction” of its bikes. In China, oversupply led to absurd, mountain-like heaps of discarded bikes. Just a few weeks into its dockless pilot program, New Yorkers are already complaining about dockless bikes requiring maintenance and clogging city sidewalks. Some cities have responded by implementing regulations, like capping the number of bikes that companies can have in the streets, or clearly demarcating curb space designated for dockless bikes.

Rarely have these systems failed with as much gusto as the one in Dallas.

[…]

The bike-share business was so poorly regulated and the public reaction was so overwhelmingly caustic that Dallas’s city council was eventually forced into action, unanimously approving an ordinance in June that requires bike-share companies to pay the city $808 for a permit to operate, plus an additional $21 for each bike in their fleet. The bike companies will now be responsible for responding to 311 complaints of bikes that are blocking sidewalks or have fallen over, too—they have two hours after each complaint to clean up the mess themselves. The council also forced the companies to fork over more specific ridership data to get a better sense of where and when people are riding dockless bikes.

You need to click over to see the pictures, if nothing else. It boggles my mind how any of this could be coexistent with a viable business plan – these two stories, linked in the TM piece, helped answer some of my questions – but the bike companies Did Not Like It when the city got involved. All I can say is that I now appreciate the implementation and managed growth of B-Cycle here in Houston that much more.

Town hall meetings for city referenda

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

MAYOR TURNER INVITES CITY RESIDENTS TO TOWN HALL MEETINGS ABOUT THE 2 PROPOSITIONS ON THE NOV. 6 CITY BALLOT

Mayor Turner urges all voters who live in the city to learn about the Rebuild Houston and fire pay referendum elections on the Nov. 6 ballot.

He will host the following meetings from 6:30 7:45 p.m.:

–– Wednesday, Sept. 5 – District C –  Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 1475 West Gray, 77019
–– Monday, Sept. 10  – District H – Moody Park, 3725 Fulton, 77009
–– Wednesday, Sept. 19 – District J – Sharpstown Community Center, 6600 Harbor Town, 77036
–– Thursday, Sept. 20 – District B – Kashmere MSC, 4802 Lockwood, 77026
–– Monday, Sept. 24 – District A – Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Road, 77055
–– Wednesday, Oct. 3 – District D – Sunnyside Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 9314 Cullen, 77051
–– Thursday, Oct. 4 – District I – EB Cape Center, 4501 Leeland, 77023
–– Monday, Oct. 8 – District F – Alief Community Center, 11903 Bellaire Blvd., 77072
–– Wednesday, Oct. 17 – District K – Fountain Life Center, 14083 S. Main, 77035
–– Thursday, Oct. 18 – District G, Walnut Bend Recreation Center, 10601 Briar Forest, 77042

Mayor Turner will make the same presentation at District E meetings hosted by Council Member Dave Martin from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

–– Tuesday, Oct. 9 at the Kingwood Community Center, 4102 Rustic Woods Drive, Kingwood 77345
–– Tuesday, Oct. 16 at Space Center Houston, 1601 E. NASA Parkway, Houston 77058

Sorry about the late notice, but this just hit my inbox yesterday, though there was a press release for it last week. Note that the press release I linked to is incorrect about the start date for early voting. It begins October 22, which was correctly noted in the release I got in my mailbox. I’m very interested in seeing what kind of a campaign there is for and against this, but in the meantime there’s this.

Interview with Mike Collier

Mike Collier

We are a day past Labor Day, which means we are officially in campaign season. As is the tradition around here, I’ll be presenting interviews with a variety of candidates for November. Generally speaking, these will cover races and candidates that I did not do during the primary cycle, and if all goes well will include at least a few statewide candidates. That’s where we begin today, with Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor. Collier is an accountant with a background in auditing who spent years at PwC before becoming the CFO of a Texas oil company. He was the Democratic candidate for Comptroller in 2014 and did an after-election study on what happened that year for the TDP. He’s been trying to get Dan Patrick to debate him, but Patrick runs like a frightened Chihuahua whenever the subject arises. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Looking beyond HISD’s one year reprieve

As we know, HISD has been in danger of sanctions from the TEA, which could include a state takeover of the district, because of several schools that had rated as “improvement needed” for multiple years in a row. They managed to avoid that fate for this year as most of its schools were granted waivers due to Harvey, while the schools that weren’t exempted met the mandated standard. Next year, however, the schools that received waivers will have to measure up or the same sanctions will apply. As a result, local officials are planning ahead for that possibility.

Local civic leaders are considering whether to form a nonprofit that could take control of several long-struggling Houston ISD schools in 2019-20, a potential bid to improve academic outcomes at those campuses and stave off a state takeover of the district’s locally elected governing board.

Members of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration, education leaders and prominent philanthropic and business organizations have convened periodically over the past few months to research and sketch out frameworks for a nonprofit capable of governing some HISD campuses. The discussions remain preliminary — no plans or proposals have been formulated — but local leaders say they their efforts will become more urgent and public in the coming months.

The nonprofit would partner with HISD through a recently passed state law commonly known as SB 1882. Under the law, school districts temporarily can surrender control over campuses to an outside organization — including a nonprofit — in exchange for a two-year reprieve from state sanctions tied to low academic performance, an extra $1,200 in per-student funding and some regulatory breaks. If HISD does not engage in an outside partnership this academic year at four chronically low-performing schools this year, the district risks state sanctions in 2019 if any of the campuses fail to meet state academic standards.

Juliet Stipeche, the director of education in Turner’s administration, said a nonprofit “seems like the wisest catalyst” for a potential private partnership with HISD. Stipeche, an HISD trustee from 2010 to 2015, is among the lead organizers of early talks about a nonprofit.

“Our office is trying to bring together a very diverse group of people to find a new way of partnering with the school district,” Stipeche said. “There’s a clear, obvious sense of urgency given the situation that we have, but there’s also an understanding that this needs to be a long-term project.”

[…]

Houston-area leaders involved in talks about forming a nonprofit for an HISD partnership said many questions remain answered: Who would serve on the nonprofit’s governing board? How would board members be chosen? How would community members engage in the nonprofit’s formation? Who would manage day-to-day campus operations? Which schools would fall under the nonprofit’s purview?

To gain support for a private partnership, local leaders will have to clear several hurdles. They likely will have three to six months to craft governance plans and an academic framework for campuses, a relatively short time frame. They will have to get buy-in from several constituencies that often clash politically, including HISD trustees, school district administrators, teachers’ union leaders and residents in neighborhoods with schools facing takeover. The TEA also would have to approve any proposals.

“We need to be taking advantage of the next year,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, the region’s largest business advocacy nonprofit. “We need to work very aggressively. It will take time to put something like this together.”

See here for some background, and here and here for what happened when HISD looked at this kind of solution earlier this year. I guess the first hurdle I’d like to be cleared is an answer to the question of how any theoretical partnership will help these schools succeed beyond what HISD has been able to do with them. In some sense this doesn’t matter since this is one of the options that the Lege mandates, and it’s the option that retains the most local control, which I agree is the better choice. There’s also the option of persuading the Lege to make some changes to SB 1882, which is something that Rep. Garnet Coleman has been talking about. Let’s focus on the bigger picture of getting the best outcome, and go from there.

#TrumpTruckTweet

I love this.

Deep in the heart of Texas, a billboard truck will soon hit the road with a curated list of President Donald Trump’s tweets — attacks on Sen. Ted Cruz, a former political foe.

Trump popularized the term “Lyin’ Ted” in 2016. But it’s 2018 now, and Democratic voter mobilization and an unlikely challenger have mounted an improbable campaign for a reliably Republican seat.

Trump said an October rally is in the works to lend Cruz support. “I’m picking the biggest stadium in Texas we can find,” Trump said Friday on Twitter.

“Help from the president was long unthinkable in a race that for months looked like a Cruz cakewalk,” the Associated Press reported.

Antonio Arellano, a Houston-based activist and Latino community organizer, thought fellow Texans may need a reminder of how Trump has suggested they vote when Cruz is on the ballot.

He was already in the market for a billboard when he tweeted a doctored image carrying a real Trump tweet from 2016.

[…]

Arellano said the actual billboard will be a mobile truck with two sides, and could carry two different tweets at once, one on each side. The route has not yet been planned, but Arellano said he is exploring where in the state he should dispatch it with the hashtag #TrumpTweetTruck.

The GoFundMe page for this, which is where the embedded image originates, raised more than it asked for and is no longer accepting donations. (Do feel free to give any money you had in mind for this to some candidates.) My guess is that they’ll pick a route once Trump picks a stadium for his pro-Cruz rally, but I’m sure wherever this goes, plenty of people will enjoy seeing it. I look forward to about a million pictures of it on Facebook and Twitter. ThinkProgress and Mother Jones have more.

Autonomous cars in Arlington

Who wants a robot to drive them to a Cowboys game?

Arlington visitors and residents will soon be able to request an autonomous vehicle on demand in the city’s entertainment district.

The city approved a one-year contract with Silicon Valley-based Drive.ai to offer a new way for people get to Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys games, attend concerts at the stadiums or go to restaurants or bars nearby. Arlington City Council approved the contract Tuesday.

The service will begin with a fleet of three autonomous vans on Oct. 19, according to a news release. Each van will hold three passengers. The vans will travel alongside other cars, but will be programmed to operate in a designated area. They will travel at up to 35 miles per hour.

Initially, each van will include a safety operator. The fleet may expand to five vans, if needed.

As the story notes, Drive.ai is also piloting a program in Frisco, where as it happens the Cowboys are headquartered. This kind of fixed-route, short-distance, low-speed use of autonomous cars makes sense to me, though if it’s ever going to be more than a novelty it will need to be done at a higher volume than this. Starting out like this is fine – I’m sure there will be plenty of refinements to make to the idea – but to make sense and be cost-effective and a means to reduce traffic you’re going to have to figure out how to move a lot more people at one time. We’ll see if Arlington is thinking along those lines.

“How Chinese Baseball Came to North Texas”

Fascinating story.

The Texas AirHogs are members of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, a federation of twelve, mostly Midwestern, teams unaffiliated with Major League Baseball. Inning breaks are punctuated with water-balloon-toss competitions and mascot races. The level of play is good, but with more overthrows and rundowns than you’d find on an average night at a big-league ballpark. Admission starts at $8 for adults, the parking is free and convenient, and season-ticket holders like Green and his roommate, Sharen Norton, get treated like big-shots. The AirHogs’ general manager, J.T. Onyett, visits the pair every game and sometimes offers up the VIP amenities. When the temperature crept to 110 degrees earlier this summer, the AirHogs’ staff ushered Green, Norton, and a few of their friends up to a vacant air-conditioned luxury suite. “I love the Rangers,” Norton, a 62-year-old grandmother says. “But would they do that?”

Almost everything about the AirHogs’ existence feels folksy and draped in Americana. So it came as a surprise to the team’s small group of season-ticket holders when, at a meet-and-greet with team executives before the start of the season, Onyett told them that their little hometown ball club would be undergoing a first-of-its-kind experiment. Instead of fielding a typical American Association team of fringe prospects, has-been minor leaguers, and guys trying for one last shot at The Show, the 2018 AirHogs would, in effect, lease out the majority of their roster to players from the Chinese national baseball team. Ten veteran non-Chinese pros—five pitchers and five position players—would supplement the national team squad, acting as on-field ringers and off-field mentors.

The Chinese have long been afterthoughts in Asia’s baseball pecking order, lagging well behind their athletic and political rivals Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Few people in China watch or play the sport; the development system is tiny, and the country has yet to produce even a high-minor-league-caliber player. (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have all produced major-league stars.) But with baseball returning to the summer Olympics in 2020 after a twelve-year hiatus, the Chinese government saw a reason to invest in the sport. Shipping their players to North Texas to play one hundred games against American pros would be the first big step.

When Green and Norton first heard about the impending arrival of the Chinese players, they didn’t know anything about the history of Chinese baseball. But they did know about their team in Grand Prairie. The AirHogs had won the American Association championship in 2011, but lately, they’d been more like the Bad News Bears. The team hadn’t had a winning record since 2013, they’d finished in last place two of the past four seasons, and—with barely a smattering of fans attending most home games—it sometimes seemed like they might not be able to stay in business. So when Green learned that China, a nation of 1.4 billion, was sending the “cream of the cream” of their baseball talent, he couldn’t help but get excited. Norton was even more hopeful.

“I wondered what the other teams were going to think when we started bashing the pants off them,” she said.

When the AirHogs’ season began on May 18, Green and Norton quickly recalibrated their expectations. The Chinese national team players that arrived in Texas were young, inexperienced, and far from world-beaters. “They didn’t know what was going on. They would do some things that a Little League team would do,” Green said.

But in August, watching the AirHogs take on the Sioux City Explorers seventy games into the season, Green was pleased with what he saw on the field. “They’re really jiving,” Green said. “And the Chinese guys always run it out, which I like.”

Go read the rest, you’ll enjoy it. As was the case with Rinku Singh and the “Million Dollar Arm” experiment, the population of China is so great that the talent pool for baseball would be very deep even if the sport only developed in a limited fashion. Bringing the Chinese national team here to get their feet wet amid higher-level competition was a super idea, one that I hope leads to something bigger. Now I want to take a road trip to Grand Prairie and see these guys for myself.