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Sports betting

There may soon come a day when you can place a bet on your favorite team without having to travel, visit offshore Internet websites, or interact with people who don’t have necks.

[NBA Commissioner Adam] Silver, in a November op-ed submission to the New York Times, said he supports federal regulation creating “a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events. … Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.”

[Rockets owner Les] Alexander prefers to let Silver take the lead on what he describes as “a league issue, not a team issue.” But as NBA owners and players travel to New York for All-Star Weekend, Alexander continues to believe it’s time to amend the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the 1992 law that generally prohibits states other than Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon from authorizing sports betting.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Alexander said. “People are gambling now on sports teams and doing it through bookmakers, which is illegal. And they are going to do it anyway, so why not make it legal? It doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s not something that’s going to hurt people.”

[…]

According to the Nevada Gaming Control agency, bettors wagered $3.9 billion on sports in the state in 2014, with the state’s 187 sportsbooks winning $227.04 million. The American Gaming Association estimates $138.9 billion is wagered illegally on all sports annually in the United States, and it estimated recently that illegal bets placed on the Super Bowl would total $3.8 billion.

That doesn’t include millions wagered in what has become the legal and, in many cases, league-authorized industry of fantasy sports. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates 41 million people spent $3.6 billion playing fantasy sports in 2014.

The fantasy sports trade group emphasizes on its website that fantasy sports are games of skill and are not gambling. Alexander, however, cited fantasy sports as an example of the move toward more liberal attitudes on sports gaming.

“There’s so much fantasy sports out there, which is a form of gambling, and that’s legal now,” he said. “It (legal gambling on games) is really not a step up. It’s a step in the same direction.”

While Silver advocates changes in federal law, the NBA joins the other major leagues in opposing unilateral moves by individual states toward legalized gambling on sports.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last year signed a Sports Wagering Law that allows betting on games at New Jersey racetracks and casinos. The four major pro leagues and the NCAA filed a lawsuit in federal court, and a judge in Trenton, N.J., in November granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting tracks and casinos from taking bets on games. The state has appealed.

Accordingly, some analysts agree that even if the NFL and other leagues change their stance on gambling to match Silver’s approach, it could be as long as a decade, perhaps more, before the Texas Legislature will authorize sports gambling in Texas.

“Gaming is not a popular word here,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based consultant and lobbyist who has worked with Alexander and the Rockets. “The prospects for gaming regulations this session are minimal. It’s not rosy at all.

“I don’t think it’s from moral outrage. I think it’s a matter of fear from new members that come from conservative (voter) bases.”

That’s true enough, but I think there’s more to it than that. If Commissioner Silver managed to get Congress to authorize any state to allow sports betting – and remember, the NFL and Major League Baseball are not on board with this – there would be two distinct groups in Texas working to get that business. One is the horse racing tracks, which have been trying to get the Lege to allow slot machines at their sites, and one is casino interests, who would push for casino gambling to be legalized. Those two groups compete against each other, so neither plan ever makes any advances. If they ever worked together towards a common goal, they might have better chances. That just hasn’t been the case, and so here we are. If I were a betting man, I’d bet the over on that “decade or more” line. I’d give marijuana legalization better odds of happening in that time frame.

Posted in: Jackpot!.

Plano ERO repeal petitions ruled invalid

Wow.

The City of Plano has determined that a recently circulated Equal Rights petition is invalid and will not move forward. Plano’s City Secretary was unable to certify the petition because it failed to meet State and local requirements for validation.

On Dec. 8, 2014, the Plano City Council approved an Equal Rights Ordinance, expanding the city’s policy to prohibit discrimination against the following classes: U.S. military/veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity. The petition called for the city to either repeal that ordinance or submit it to the citizens for a vote.

The petition contained false information regarding the Equal Rights Ordinance, claiming it regulates bathrooms. The ordinance does not regulate bathrooms. By making this false representation, the Equal Rights petition asked signees to repeal an ordinance that does not exist.

Texas Election Code requires petitions submitted in cities located in two counties to include a column for the signee’s county of voter registration. Since Plano is in two counties, that column was mandatory. However, none of the petition pages included it.

The Plano City Charter requires petitions to include a copy of the legislation sought to be repealed or changed. The Equal Rights petition did not include an attachment of the ordinance.

On Dec. 30, three weeks prior to the deadline for the Equal Rights petition to be turned in, the city of Plano sent an email to the groups organizing the petition drive, including Texas Values, the U.S. Pastor Council and Plano Citizens United, to clarify information. It outlined problematic issues with the petition, including those aforementioned. The email read, ‘The city is providing information in an attempt to facilitate accuracy in referendum petitions to avoid any potential disputes regarding validity of signatures.’ Links were provided to the city of Plano Charter, Texas Election Code and petition information on the Secretary of State website. The city made a good faith attempt to avoid dispute and facilitate accuracy.

Nonetheless, not a single page of submitted petitions was valid.

Like I said, wow. I have a mighty low opinion of the characters involved in this effort, but even I wouldn’t have expect this. The DMN fills in some details.

If the petitions had been validated, the Plano City Council was scheduled to decide Monday on whether to repeal the ordinance or put it on the May 9 ballot.

Instead, said [Plano City Manager Bruce] Glasscock, the ordinance stands and the council will be briefed on the reasons why the petitions were found to be invalid.

“There are no other options for them,” Glasscock said, referring to organizers of the petition drive.

A referendum petition must be presented within 30 days after an ordinance is approved, according to the Plano City Charter. The Equal Rights Ordinance was approved Dec. 8. The deadline to submit petitions expired Jan. 20.

However, opponents of Houston’s LGBT rights ordinance sued the city after officials said that a petition drive failed to garner enough valid signatures.

Plano officials express confidence in their ability to fight any legal challenge.

“Over half of the petitions had false statements on them,” said Glasscock, referring to what he called an “egregious” misrepresentation of how the ordinance would affect public restrooms.

The petitions stated: “Also under this policy, biological males who declare their ‘gender identity’ as female MAY BE ALLOWED to enter women’s restrooms!”

The ordinance specifically excludes public restrooms, showers, locker rooms and dressing rooms. It states that it is not illegal to “deny the opposite sex access to facilities inside a public accommodation segregated on the basis of sex for privacy.”

By making this false representation, the petition asked residents to repeal an ordinance that didn’t exist, city officials said.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. The bathroom exemption was the reason why groups like the Trans Pride Initiative did not support the ordinance. As the Dallas Voice observed, this was the same gang that did such a stellar job with the Houston repeal petitions, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. I am sure that litigation will follow, but for now, let’s celebrate. KERA, the Scoop Blog, and Unfair Park have more.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

The backlash has begun

Item one.

RedEquality

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked the state Supreme Court to void a marriage license issued to two Austin women who became the first same-sex couple to legally wed in the state.

Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, who have been together for 30 years, said their vows on Thursday after state District Judge David Wahlberg ordered the Travis County clerk to issue them a marriage license. Later that day, the Texas Supreme Court put a temporary hold on Wahlberg’s order. Paxton is now asking the court to overturn the order and declare the couple’s marriage license void.

Despite Texas’ constitutional ban on marriages between same-sex couples, Wahlberg ordered the license be issued to Goodfriend and Bryant under special circumstances because Goodfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year.

Although Wahlberg’s court order was specific to the Austin couple, Paxton asked the court on Friday to to overturn the order to “avoid the legal chaos” that could arise if county clerks “mistakenly rely” on the order and begin granting marriage licenses to other same-sex couples.

“If that occurred, the harm to the couples, state officials, and the general public would be difficult if not impossible to undo,” Paxton wrote in a petition filed with the Supreme Court.

See here for the background, and here for the AG’s petition. This move was to be expected. As long as the issue is still being litigated at the federal level, it’s hard to imagine the AG not taking action in response to Friday’s historic announcement. One can certainly amount the potential for chaos, though Travis County officials seem to have been pretty restrained overall, and I seriously doubt Paxton really cares about the “harm” that may befall any couples. I’d be interested in hearing the lawyers’ views on his petition, because the expert the Trib consulted had some doubts.

Alexandra Albright, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said she was unsure whether the attorney general has the standing to invalidate a marriage license.

“As far as bringing a lawsuit to invalidate, it sounds like a stretch,” Albright said. Because the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the issue, she added it’s unlikely the Texas high court will quickly rule on Paxton’s petition.

“I don’t think they see any reason to hurry up and try to issue an opinion before the U.S. Supreme Court decides,” Albright said.

Any comment on that. In the meantime, there’s Item Two.

State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, filed legislation Friday afternoon that would make the Texas secretary of state’s office the sole distributor of marriage licenses. Couples looking to marry currently obtain marriage licenses from individual county clerk’s offices.

Perry said his bill is intended to keep county clerks from issuing marriage licenses “that do not conform to state law.”

[…]

“Yesterday, Travis County officials acted in direct conflict with the Texas Constitution,” Perry said in a statement. “[Senate Bill] 673 ensures rule of law is maintained and the Texas Constitution is protected.”

State Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, has filed a companion bill in the House.

Seems like more than a bit of an overreaction to something that will very likely be a moot point by the end of the year, wouldn’t you say? I have a hard time seeing this as anything but a prelude to some Roy Moore-style defiance of the coming SCOTUS ruling. I mean, as long as county clerks can give out marriage licenses, then it only takes one Dana deBeauvoir to open the floodgates for every gay couple in the state. On the other hand, if you centralize that power and make only one official – one official who serves at the pleasure of the Governor – accountable, well, you can see the potential for chaos that this can cause. Do you think these guys, from Abbott to Paxton to Charles Perry and Cecil Bell, realize that forty years from now they’re going to be their generation’s George Wallace and Bull Connor? I’m pretty sure they don’t.

And finally, Item Three:

From the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” Department, I think this may be my favorite* new crime proposed yet in 2015: Texas state Rep. Debbie Riddle has filed legislation making it a Class A misdemeanor for a transgendered person to use the restroom of their adopted gender, even after reassignment surgery, and a state jail felony for a building manager to allow them to do so.

Indeed, the bill goes beyond transgendered people to criminalize anyone entering the restroom of the opposite gender with three exceptions: if they enter for custodial purposes, to give medical attention, or accompanying a minor under eight years old. I can think of more than one instance in my life where I would have committed a Class A misdemeanor under this provision, how about you?

My wife suggested that many women may have violated this proposed law at nightclubs or public events because the lines to women’s restrooms are always quite long and the stalls in the men’s room are frequently empty.

Leave it to The Riddler to kick things up a notch. It turns out that this isn’t just her bright idea – really, she isn’t smart enough to think of something like this – but it’s part of a national campaign being pushed in state legislatures everywhere by the usual assortments of crooks and ne’er do wells. If that surprises you, you really haven’t been paying close enough attention.

Posted in: Legal matters, That's our Lege.

Uptown needs bikes

So says this op-ed.

Always susceptible to gridlock, especially at Christmastime, the traffic jams now happen year-round and last longer each day. Clearly, Uptown badly needs convenient, reliable alternatives to cars for the tens of thousands of workers and residents who live, work and shop in the area, the largest business district in the nation outside of a traditional downtown.

One such alternative is bicycling. Houston has made impressive progress in recent years to make bicycling safer and more convenient.

The Bayou Greenways Initiative, Safe Passing Law and Complete Streets policy are recent examples, and an updated Bikeway Master Plan, now underway, will identify additional on- and off-street facilities to fill in the gaps in Houston’s bikeway network.

Uptown, however, remains dangerous to navigate by bike, especially during rush hour. Surrounded on three sides by major freeways, there are few safe options to enter the area by bike. Once there, a cyclist must navigate streets designed solely to move cars as quickly as possible, with few accommodations for cyclists. Post Oak Boulevard, Uptown’s signature street, is an obvious example. While biking there can be a death-defying experience, even walking is a daunting and frightening prospect, with sidewalks located right next to speeding traffic.

The proposed Uptown dedicated bus lanes project (“Bus project along Post Oak appears ready to roll ahead” Page B3, Jan. 29) will provide one alternative to driving, especially for commuters in the suburbs who have access to park and ride routes that run to the existing Northwest and proposed Bellaire/Uptown transit centers. The project features a total rebuild of Post Oak Boulevard to add dedicated bus lanes in the middle, while preserving existing lanes for cars.

Unfortunately, the plan as currently proposed includes no bike lanes, and maintains wide, high-speed main traffic lanes. Thus, while it will provide an alternative to driving for suburban commuters, the current dedicated bus lane plan does nothing for Uptown workers who live close enough to bike to work, but who won’t risk their lives (and their families’ livelihoods) to do so. It also does little for local residents who might like to bike to local shops and restaurants or into adjoining neighborhoods and parks, including Memorial Park (now a part of the Uptown tax increment reinvestment zone.)

Adding dedicated bike lanes to the dedicated bus lane project would provide an additional alternative to those who want access to shops, workplaces and restaurants along Post Oak, as well as provide connectivity to adjoining neighborhoods, Memorial Park and the Greater Houston bikeway network.

Bike lanes would also enhance the pedestrian realm by providing a buffer between sidewalks and automobile traffic.

I agree completely. It doesn’t make sense to spend all that money redoing Post Oak Lane and not end up with a street that is more bike and pedestrian friendly. There are two ways to deal with excessive traffic in destinations like Uptown: Make it easier to get there without driving, primarily for commuters, and make it easier for those who are already there to get around within the area without driving. Downtown does both of those things. Uptown is working on the first one, with the BRT line and the HOV lane. It really needs to do the other, and the opportunity to do that begins with the BRT line construction on Post Oak. I want to be clear that this is the Uptown Management District’s responsibility. Metro will operate the BRT line once it is built, but the Management District is doing the design and construction. Please do it right the first time, y’all.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Plastic bag bans work

Someone tell Greg Abbott.

plastic-bag

Shortly before being sworn in as governor, Greg Abbott called for doing away with local bans on plastic bags, fracking and tree-cutting that he says amount to a “patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”

Austin has bans on plastic bags and one of the state’s most involved tree removal ordinances. Apart from the political question of whether local-control-minded Republican lawmakers have the stomach to overturn local ordinances, there lingers a more practical matter: Have such rules been effective?

The short answer: looks like they are.

The data on Austin’s bag ban is scant — Austin Resource Recovery has only now commissioned a study of the effect of the ban, but anecdotal evidence from groups that track trash around town suggest it has had an impact.

“In my own community, around Bartholomew Park (in Northeast Austin), we always had an enormous amount of plastic bags that would gather,” said Rodney Ahart, executive director of Keep Austin Beautiful, which educates consumers about reusing plastic bags but didn’t take an official position on the ban. “Now you don’t see the plastic bags anymore.”

No retailers have been penalized or fined, said Emlea Chanslor, a spokeswoman for Austin Resource Recovery.

Fewer than 1 percent of H-E-B’s customers buy $1 emergency plastic bags at the checkout, according to the grocery store chain’s spokeswoman Leslie Sweet, suggesting the ordinance has had the intended effect of getting customers to reuse their bags.

[…]

Darren Hodges, a City Council member in the West Texas town of Fort Stockton, which has adopted a plastic bag ban of its own, had this to say in recent American-Statesman opinion piece: “I don’t know when the new governor was last in Fort Stockton, but it is certainly not becoming like California.”

You’ll have to forgive Greg Abbott; he doesn’t get out much. I don’t know if much will come of his stated intent to crush local control – it wasn’t part of his State of the State address – but I continue to marvel at the fetishization of state government over any other form. I have to think there’s some potential to turn the kind of anti-federal rhetoric that Abbott at al love to use against them, as they do (or try to do) to cities what they claim Washington does to Texas. Maybe not that much, I don’t know. But I feel like the more people see stuff like this as successful, the more open they’ll be to an argument that trying to shut it down isn’t right. It’s a start.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Weekend link dump for February 22

On public shaming and its lasting effects.

The war on yoga pants is proceeding apace.

“Baseball used to be the sport where all you needed was a stick and a ball. It used to be a way out for poor kids. Now it’s a sport that increasingly freezes out kids whose parents don’t have the income to finance the travel baseball circuit.”

Thanks, feminism!

RIP, Michele Ferrero, creator of Nutella.

“But Dr Lecter’s choice of sides weren’t based on his taste predilections, he was making a medical joke.”

How fast are the Nerf darts fired by a Nerf gun actually going? Nothing like having a high-speed video camera to figure it out. If this were an episode of Mythbusters, the next questions would be “But how fast can we MAKE it go?”, and “Just how lethal would that be?”

Why does the United States have such an antiquated system of measurement? You can blame two of history’s all-time greatest villains: British colonialism and Congress.”

It’s time for Presidential candidates to take a position on our forthcoming subservience to robot overlords.

A Black Mississippi Judge’s Breathtaking Speech To 3 White Murderers.

New federal regulations might actually stimulate the creation of startups.

Kristen Bell is the anti-Jenny McCarthy.

“Utah has now become the first state to officially allow its citizens to sue themselves.”

“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — otherwise known as Obamacare — is putting such a small dent in the profits of U.S. companies that many refer to its impact as “not material” or “not significant,” according to a Bloomberg review of conference-call transcripts and interviews with major U.S. employers.”

“How do we know that’s what Satan looks like? We learned it from Vincent Price — and from a thousand other pop-culture and folk-culture figures preceding him.”

Flamethrowers > microwaves when it comes to snow removal.

Yeah, it really is cold up north right now.

Rudy Giuliani is a huge jerk.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Stay sought on immigration lawsuit decision

As expected.

JustSayNo

The Obama administration will ask a court on Monday to allow the president’s controversial immigration order to move forward after a Texas judge halted the program this week.

“The Department of Justice has made a decision to file a stay in this case,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Friday, according to a transcript of a news conference. “I would anticipate that they will file documents at the district court level on Monday at the latest.”

[…]

Earnest said the stay request is separate from an appeal of the ruling, which the administration still plans to file. If the stay is granted, the administration could begin accepting applications for the program, which it was slated to begin doing on Wednesday. But Earnest added that there is no certain timeline if the stay is issued.

“[The appeal] was something that we announced in the immediate aftermath of the decision,” he said. “And we will seek that appeal because we believe that when you evaluate the legal merits of the arguments, that there is a solid legal foundation for the President to take the steps that he announced late last year to reform our broken immigration system.”

See here for the background. I’m not a lawyer and I’m not going to make any predictions. I am going to hope that the stay is granted. We’ll see.

Posted in: Legal matters.

More on the HERO repeal petition jury verdict

KUHF has a good look at What It All Means.

PetitionsInvalid

“It’s tough to predict,” said Teddy Rave, an assistant professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

“It looks like the jury pretty much split the baby. They answered some questions in favor of the plaintiffs and some in favor of the city. And now it’ll be up to the judge to apply the answers that the jury gave to the signatures on the petition to try to figure out which ones are valid and how many of them are valid and whether that will get across the threshold.”

The jurors were asked to consider six different questions.

For example, in Question 1, they had to determine which of 98 different petition gatherers “signed and subscribed” their oath. Without a valid oath, all signatures that person gathered are invalid.

The jury said “no” for about two-thirds of them.

But [Andy] Taylor, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, argued that says nothing about what the judge will end up ruling on that question.

“As long as you substantially comply with the purpose of the law, then the vote counts,” Taylor said.

He said as long as someone signed or wrote their name anywhere on the page, their intent is clear.

[Geoffrey] Harrison, the city’s lawyer, disagreed.

“People who sign where they’re supposed to legibly identify their name but fail to sign to actually take the oath — that’s the fundamental problem,” Harrison said.

See here for the background. What you need to see is the copy of the jury charge embedded in the KUHF story link. It gives a good idea of just how shoddy the effort of the petition collectors was. For example:

– To the question “Which if any of the following Circulators signed and subscribed the Circulator’s oath in the Referendum Petition?”, where “subscribed” means “to sign one’s own name” at the bottom of the pages, the answer for 64 of the 98 circulators was No. Among them were former Council candidates Philip Bryant, Kathy Ballard-Blueford Daniels, and Kendall Baker; pastor Steve Riggle, and former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill.

– The plaintiffs made a big deal out of the fact that the jury answered No to the question of whether any pages submitted by 13 different circulators contained fraud. But to the question of whether or not they contained forgeries, the answer for 12 of the 13 was Yes, and to the question of whether or not any of them contained “non-accidental defects”, the answer for 6 of 16 was Yes.

– Finally to the question of whether or not the circulators’ affidavit oaths were true and correct, the answer for 12 of the 13 was No. Interestingly, the one circulator for whom the answer was Yes was also the one circulator whose pages were found to contain no forgeries.

The big question is how many petition pages get knocked out as a result of all these errors, incompetencies, and forgeries. There was a meeting between Judge Schaffer and the attorneys on Thursday the 19th to discuss this very topic.

In the hearing, Judge Robert Schaffer sought input from the lawyers on what to base his final ruling on.

Andy Taylor represents the plaintiffs — pastors and conservatives who oppose the ordinance.

He said the judge will ultimately decide how many valid signatures there are left.

“There are multiple rulings that he’s going to have to make,” Taylor said. “Some of those rulings have subcategories and subparts. It’s very, very complicated.”

The jury found several instances on the petition where signature gatherers didn’t sign their oath correctly. They also found cases where the same person signed for others, and other defects. But it’s not always clear-cut when a signature is invalid.

Geoffrey Harrison, who represents the city, thinks otherwise.

“If the judge does use the jury’s verdict as a framework for the judge’s decision, this case is over for the plaintiffs,” he said. “They lose and it’s not close.”

We’ll see about that. Judge Schaffer is expected to make his ruling on Monday. The more that get tossed, the fewer pages for the city to re-count valid signatures (“valid” meaning registered voters in the city of Houston), and obviously the better the chance that there won’t be enough of them. This is, as they say, a big effing deal.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Cities and counties push back on state meddling attempts

They’ve got their work cut out for them.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The mayors of Texas’ largest cities on Monday pushed back against an initiative by state lawmakers to place new revenue caps on local communities as a way to answer conservatives’ demands to cut property taxes.

As the city CEOs who represent a third of Texas’ population threw their clout behind blocking the new caps, saying it would hurt their ability to provide basic services, they also said they will oppose attempts by the Legislature to limit local control by overturning ordinances on fracking, plastic bags and tree-trimming.

Gov. Greg Abbott last month complained that Texas was being “California-ized” by local governments passing bans on plastic bags, fracking and tree-cutting, saying, “We need to peel back some of these ridiculous, unnecessary requirements.”

Previous legislative efforts to restrict cities’ rule-making authority have met with resistance from those citing the need for local control. Several bills in the last session to overturn cities’ authority to ban bags failed to win approval amid opposition from cities and environmental groups.

At their news conference Monday, the mayors used the same reasoning to oppose tax cuts being contemplated by lawmakers.

Calling themselves the M-10, for the 10 largest cities they represent, the mayors said in a joint statement that new caps on property taxes would impair the ability of cities to properly manage their operations and would thwart the ability of cities to solve problems in their own ways.

“We are very clear that we need to focus on solving the problems of Texas in a fiscally responsible way,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker, echoing the sentiments of other mayors who said local governments have limited property tax increases in many areas and are budgeting in a frugal way.

The city of Houston has not increased its property tax rate since 1994; in fact, the city has cut its tax rate since then, though its revenues have continued to grow because of higher property appraisals.

San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor said local governments should be allowed to determine their own budgets, not affected adversely by Austin.

“Our cities are the economic engine for the Texas miracle,” she said.

It’s not just the cities that are feeling the potential crush here. That’s good, because Texas’ cities are increasingly out of step politically with the state. I doubt the Lege would have much concern about sticking it to the cities, but if they’re hearing it from county officials as well, they might hesitate. I hope, anyway. And I’ll say again, the Mayoral candidates need to get on this, like now. This Legislature has the capability and the inclination to do a lot to affect their agendas, and not in a good way. What are they waiting for? Trail Blazers has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Nothing but not-so-good-times ahead

Maybe if everyone chants “This time is different than the 80s!” loudly enough it will have the talismanic effect we all hope it will.

For five years, a domestic oil boom has created a bounty of high-paying jobs and a general climate of prosperity here. But as the rest country starts to see signs of economic revitalization, many of Houston’s biggest companies are slowing down. Both phenomena are due at least in part to the precipitous slide in the price of crude.

Halliburton, Schlumberger, Weatherford and Baker Hughes have dominated headlines with news of their layoffs, but the vast array of nonenergy businesses that feasted on their good fortune also are coming to the realization that the boom may finally have run its course.

That was clear in a series of interviews last week, in which even the most sanguine business owners agreed things could change dramatically over the next several months.

A financial planner whose customers include oil and gas executives said he’s advising clients to start “hunkering down.” A prominent hotelier is warning managers to get ready for “some belt-tightening.” A high-end real estate broker predicted builders could soon be offering incentives – “closing costs, appliances, upgrades” – in a market that only recently had homebuyers writing plaintive letters to sellers and paying well over asking price to get their second- or third-choice house.

“Nobody should be afraid, but people should be concerned,” added Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership. “We will feel the impact, even outside of energy. We just haven’t felt it yet.”

By almost every metric, Houston’s economy flourished during the domestic energy renaissance. The biggest impact has been jobs: nearly 485,000 added to the region in the last five years, according to Jankowski. The impact of those workers, whose wages are about double the local average, extends far beyond the energy sector itself, as they buy homes, purchase cars and spend money around town.

Optimists look to the medical, shipping and logistics industries to offer a cushion. But it’s naive to believe that if Houston thrived during the energy boom, it won’t suffer as the sector struggles.

Bill Gilmer, director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at University of Houston, noted that although Houston’s economy has diversified since the oil bust that rocked the region in the 1980s, about half the region’s economic activity is still affected by the oil industry.

“I don’t think we have seen any significant diversification,” he said.

If the price of crude oil settles at $50 a barrel, the city would narrowly avoid a recession. But at $40 it won’t, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, in an interview earlier this month.

Doesn’t that make you feel better? I don’t really have anything to add to this. For what it’s worth, I agree that this time around, it likely won’t be as bad as it was before. That’s not going to be much comfort to anyone who’s been or going to be laid off, or whose business will suffer, but it’s something. And if you’re one of those people who once sported a bumper sticker that said “Lord, please send us one more oil boom, we promise not to piss it away next time”, well, I hope you feel like you’ve lived up to that.

Posted in: Bidness.

Saturday video break: Fire and Rain

It’s a James Taylor classic:

But have you ever said to yourself “You know, I’d like to hear that song with a bluesier voice and a horn section backing it”? Well, then Blood, Sweat & Tears is here for you:

BS&T did a fair number of covers, the best known probably being the blues classic “God Bless The Child”, but they also did a number of contemporary tunes, like this one and “Sympathy For The Devil”. I consider them one of the underrated bands of their era.

Posted in: Music.

Sylvester Turner announces his entry into the Mayor’s race

What we’ve all known about for months is now official.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner announced his candidacy for Houston mayor today, formally adding the name of an influential lawmaker with deep ties to the African-American community to the growing field of contenders.

For 25 years, Turner has risen through the ranks of the state House and twice before has looked to parlay that experience into the city’s top job. Turner, who for the past year has openly talked about his plan to run a third time, made his decision public Friday in a video to supporters.

“People in my generation inherited a great city, with folks who have big dreams, and they made big things happen,” Turner, a Harvard-educated lawyer who grew up in low-income Acres Homes, will say in the video. “I see a city still doing that.”

Turner likely will be the early front-runner, as much as there can be a leader at all in a field featuring a dozen potential candidates, nearly all of whom have elected experience.

But few have reached out to the city’s movers and shakers over the past 12 months like Turner. He first made his ambitions public last February and has won over many power players in the Democratic establishment, from Sen. John Whitmire to the lobbyists and donors who can steer endorsements, dollars and ultimately votes.

He also has steadily raised mayoral money through his legislative account for at least six months. That fundraising – occurring while other mayoral candidates were subject to a fundraising blackout period – allowed Turner to enter 2015 with $1 million in the bank.

That’s the subject of some legal wrangling, but until and unless a judge says otherwise, it’s so. And Turner will need it to be so, because unless he decides to resign from the Legislature, he’s barred from further fundraising until sine die at the end of May, assuming no special sessions get tacked on. We’ll see if Greg Abbott is less promiscuous with those than Rick Perry was. Be that as it may, Turner will have a campaign kickoff event on March 28. A statement from his campaign is beneath the fold.

One more thing:

Given the caliber and crowd of the field, most mayoral candidates likely will appeal to small slices of the electorate in order to earn the 40,000 votes that most campaigns expect they will need to earn a place in a December runoff.

For Turner, that path is heavily dependent on strong support from the African-American community he has represented for two decades and which typically casts about 30 percent of the vote in municipal elections.

Yet that path could be complicated by the entrance of Ben Hall, an African-American pastor who lost to Mayor Annise Parker in 2013, who also is running for the job again.

Not really sure where that 40,000 number comes from. It has to be a function of how many “viable” candidates there are – does Ben Hall count? is Adrian Garcia in? – as well as overall turnout – are we in 2003 territory, where over 300,000 people voted in the first round, or 2009 territory, where that number was 180,000? If you assume five “viable” candidates (Turner, Bell, Pennington, Costello, King) and 200,000 total votes, then 40,000 is a reasonable goal. It’s also a goal that may well change as time goes on. Let’s just say that whatever the goal is, I’d want to exceed it by as much as possible.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Election 2015.

One point two million Obamacare signups in Texas

Not too shabby.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

McCarter was one of nearly 1.2 million Texans who signed up or were re-enrolled in health coverage before open enrollment ended Sunday. The newly released numbers show Texas ranking behind only Florida in the number of people it signed up or re-enrolled in coverage among the 37 states that rely on the federal health insurance marketplace to sell insurance plans, federal officials said Wednesday. Florida signed up or re-enrolled about 1.6 million people.

“When was the last time this many people became insured?” asked Elena Marks, president and CEO of Houston’s Episcopal Health Foundation and a nonresident health policy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “It is almost double the number who signed up last year.”

[…]

About 150,000 consumers who were waiting to buy marketplace coverage and those who had technical problems while completing their applications as open enrollment ended Sunday will have until Monday to finish enrolling. Burwell said she hasn’t decided whether to open a special enrollment period for consumers who realize they face a penalty for being uninsured as they file their 2014 federal income taxes.

Texas’ enrollment figure indicates about 500,000 residents might have bought marketplace insurance for the first time. Last year, nearly 734,000 Texans bought coverage during the marketplace’s inaugural open enrollment period.

According to the national insurance advocacy group Get Covered America, more than 317,000 Houston-area residents bought or were re-enrolled in 2015 marketplace insurance coverage.

“The fact that more than 180,000 Texans enrolled in the final nine days of the open enrollment period shows that people want and need an affordable and quality health care plan,” Mimi Garcia, Get Covered America’s Texas director, said in a written statement.

That’s over 11 million nationally, or 19 million if you count Medicaid expansion. Not too shabby for a program that the hacks at the TPPF claims is broken, or for a population that Rick Perry swears wasn’t interested in getting coverage. Imagine what these numbers could be if everyone cared about doing something about the uninsured problem.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

State of the county 2015: Please cooperate more

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett makes his eighth State if the County address.

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

In his eighth State of the County address, Emmett had choice words for both Austin – which is weighing a reduction in property taxes that form the backbone of county revenue – and for Houston – which has adopted a strategy of limited annexations of suburban areas but Emmett said will not adequately provide for its poor.

“County government must have the tools and resources necessary to improve those areas because I do not see a scenario in which the city steps up and improves the situation,” Emmett said at NRG Stadium to several hundred business leaders brought together by the Greater Houston Partnership.

A city spokeswoman said the limited annexations were two-sided agreements with utility districts, not city land-grabs.

Emmett nevertheless called for a “new model of urban governance” that would work for a booming unincorporated Harris County that is becoming increasingly urbanized. The county judge expressed concern that the unincorporated part of the county could struggle to provide health care for its indigent and build roads and railways for its economy.

Harris County, which soon will have more people living in these unincorporated areas than in Houston, has been mischaracterized by outside groups and policy makers as merely an urban core, Emmett said.

The city’s governance plan has included limited-purpose annexation of unincorporated areas. Those agreements strip suburban areas of possible revenue, and Emmett said he was prepared to spend some political capital to fight the city as it tries to bring neighboring areas into its jurisdiction.

“Suburbs and close-in areas that have been skipped over are struggling,” Emmett said. “For lack of a better term, suburban blight is staring us in the face.”

Equally menacing, Emmett said, is a state government that looks to implement “arbitrary limits” on the revenue or spending of the county, which is an arm of the state. While he supports lower taxes, Emmett derided proposed property tax caps Friday as merely “good sound bites.”

The state also should take some responsibility for health care for the indigent and the mentally ill, Emmett said, rather than relying solely on county resources.

“Should indigent health care really be a responsibility solely of the county?” Emmett asked. “Or is it time for the state to establish regional health care systems that support public and private clinics, hospitals and programs?”

Here’s the full text of Judge Emmett’s address. Just as a reminder, expanding Medicaid (which Judge Emmett supports) would go a long way towards addressing those needs. I don’t know enough about the annexation issue to have a strong opinion about it, but I wonder if going back to doing more full annexations might be a better way forward. As for the threat to the county’s revenue stream coming from Austin, the main problem there is too many Republicans in Austin that don’t really care about governing but are there to implement an ideological agenda. The Judge’s suggestion is for more November voters to get involved in the primaries. That may help, but I’d point out they could also make some different choices in November, too. Anyway, the end of the speech was about the Astrodome and the ULI plan for it. Whatever else happens, here’s hoping that gets some traction.

Posted in: Local politics.

Wal-Mart booze update

The Lege gets involved.

One week after Wal-Mart sued the state for the right to sell hard liquor, two Texas lawmakers and a new coalition of businesses are taking the same fight to the Capitol.

Wal-Mart, Kroger and the Texas Association of Business on Wednesday helped birth a new nonprofit group calling itself Texans for Consumer Freedom to push for laws allowing publicly traded corporations like Wal-Mart and Kroger to own and operate liquor stores. Public companies are barred from the Texas booze market by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission — an arbitrary exclusion from the free market, group members say.

“Free markets transcend any individual retailers whether they’re publicly or privately held,” said Travis Thomas, a spokesman who helped form Texans for Consumer Freedom. “It should be open to everybody to compete.”

Bills filed this week by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would repeal parts of the alcohol code that exclude publicly traded corporations and limit the number of liquor stores a company can own.

If the bills pass, grocery stores that want to sell hard alcohol would still be required to do so in a separate building with its own entrance.

“This does not mean that publicly traded companies are going to be selling spirits next to bread and candy,” said Scott Dunaway, another spokesman with Texans for Consumer Freedom.

See here for the background. The bills in question are HB1225 and SB609. Texas law also limits a single owner to five liquor stores, though immediate family members can consolidate permits under a single company. Normally, I’d make fun of a big business-fronted group name like “Texans for Consumer Freedom”, but I don’t have any particular objection to the goal of updating this part of the alcohol code. It’s not a remnant of Prohibition, as Ross’ comment on my previous post notes, but it doesn’t make any sense as it stands now. We’ll see if they get any traction or if this will be a multi-session affair. In the meantime, RG Ratcliffe asks a darned good question.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Friday random ten: Parenthetically speaking, part 3

More parentheses! So many more parentheses!

1. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – U2
2. Come And I Will Sing You (The Twelve Apostles) – Great Big Sea
3. Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) – Chic
4. The Deal (No Deal) – from “Chess”
5. December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night) – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
6. Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) – The Delfonics
7. Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied) – B.T. Express
8. (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville – R.E.M.
9. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
10. Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me) – Glenn Miller

Another Christmas song, fittingly by U2 since they have appeared on this list once already and will appear a few more times before it’s over. Also our first appearance by a song whose parenthetical title is the one most people think of as the “real” title, from Frankie Valli and wedding reception DJs everywhere. And again, there are more of those to come.

Posted in: Music.

First same-sex marriage in Texas happens

It may be the only one for awhile, but it will definitely not be the only one.

Despite Texas’ longstanding ban on same-sex marriages, two Austin women made history on Thursday when they became the first gay couple to legally wed in the state.

A judge directed the Travis County clerk to issue a marriage license to Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant. The order does not clear the way for other same-sex couples in the county to be married.

The order by state District Judge David Wahlberg of Travis County directed Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to “cease and desist relying on the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage” and issue the couple a marriage license.

The license was issued under special circumstances because one of the women has “severe and immediate health concerns,” a county spokeswoman said in a statement.

BOR was the first to break the news. The Statesman fills in some details.

In their petition to Wahlberg, the couple said the inability to obtain a marriage license was causing them irreparable harm, particularly because Goodfriend has been diagnosed and treated for ovarian cancer.

Saying they had no adequate legal remedy to enforce their right to marry, the couple asked Wahlberg to issue a restraining order directing DeBeauvoir to issue a marriage license and waive the 72-hour waiting period.

At 9:25 a.m., Wahlberg’s order arrived at the county clerk’s office. Bryant and Goodfriend immediately filled out the paperwork and quickly walked to the site of their vows, fearing the state would attempt to step in and enforce the law and constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“Given the urgency and other circumstances in this case,” Wahlberg’s order said, “and the ongoing violation of plaintiffs’ rights, the court has concluded that good cause exists” to move forward with the marriage.

To get the license, the couple sued DeBeauvoir, and the county clerk emphasized that she is not issuing additional marriage licenses to same-sex couples but was complying with the court order.

You can see Judge Wahlberg’s order here. Not too surprisingly, AG Ken Paxton took action as well:

After the couple obtained the marriage license, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called Wahlberg’s order “erroneous” and asked the Texas Supreme Court to block his ruling. Paxton is seeking to void the marriage license and has also filed suit to keep the Travis County Clerk’s office from issuing marriage licenses to other same-sex couples.

“The law of Texas has not changed, and will not change due to the whims of any individual judge or county clerk operating on their own capacity anywhere in Texas,” Paxton said in a statement. “Activist judges don’t change Texas law and we will continue to aggressively defend the laws of our state and will ensure that any licenses issued contrary to law are invalid.”

Wahlberg’s order came on the heels of Tuesday’s ruling by Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman that said banning gay marriage is illegal. After Herman’s ruling prompted uncertainty among officials who were unsure what effect it has on gay marriage in the county, Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene in the case and block Herman’s ruling.

The Texas Supreme Court granted Paxton’s requests Thursday afternoon, temporarily blocking both rulings.

Background on the probate case is here. You can see Paxton’s request for a stay here, and a copy of the Supreme Court’s orders here. According to the couple’s attorney, this does not void the marriage itself – the AG would have to sue them to try to nullify the license. (Longer version of the Chron story is here.)

At this point, I have no idea what will happen next. Until then, congratulations and mazel tov to Goodfriend and Bryant and their family. Hair Balls, Newsdesk, Equality Texas, Freedom to Marry, ThinkProgress, Unfair Park, the Observer, RG Ratcliffe, and Texas Leftist have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Should Lane Lewis resign as HCDP Chair to run for Council?

That’s the question some people are asking.

Lane Lewis

Lane Lewis

“What I want is someone who is going to be, at least in the political world, dedicated 100 percent to the mission of advancing the ideals of the Democratic Party,” said John Gorczynski, a local Democratic staffer and head of the Young Democrats of Texas. “If someone’s going to be running a campaign, I can’t imagine what that would look like.”

Lewis’ fundraiser next month will be hosted at the home of Bill Baldwin, the former county Democratic finance chair who resigned a few weeks ago to raise money for Lewis’ bid, a move intended to make the line between the party and the campaign clear. Some are calling for Lewis to follow Baldwin’s example and resign.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said Lewis should consider that, adding there would be a potential conflict of interest between Lewis trying to neutrally advance the Democratic Party – which includes several members running against him for council – while “competing in the trenches” himself.

“When you serve as party chair, you at least leave some of your political ambition at the door,” Jones said.

Lewis faces Houston Community College trustee Chris Oliver, local Democratic activists Jenifer Rene Pool and Philippe Nassif, Republican activist Trebor Gordon, and possibly Harris County Housing Authority chief Tom McCasland in the non-partisan race to succeed term-limited city councilman Stephen Costello in the At Large 1 council seat.

[…]

The county Democratic and Republican parties typically stay out of endorsing candidates in non-partisan municipal races, but Jones said that some Democratic elected officials and campaign staff may be pressured away from backing any of Lewis’ opponents.

Oliver and some Democratic activists also charge that Lewis could improperly use the party’s email list – though Lewis said the campaign email list was culled from his phone’s contacts, not the party’s -and that his time spent preparing the party for 2016 would now be split between his personal campaign and the party’s.

“That person should be focusing on Democratic Party politics, not city council politics,” said Oliver, a Democrat.

Lewis is not required to resign, as some but not all elected office holders are. My opinion is that we’re early enough in the cycle that being Chair and being a candidate are not inherently in conflict. Any candidate running a full-fledged campaign is likely to find as time goes on that it doesn’t leave much room in his or her life for other things. Lewis may eventually decide he should resign just to ensure he has enough hours in the day to do all the things he needs to do. Alternately, he may find that more and more Democratic activists, the kind of people whose vote he will want in November, are grumbling that the duties of HCDP Chair are being neglected and someone else needs to take over to ensure there isn’t a mess to clean up going into 2016. Or maybe he’ll be able to handle it all, and the complaints will be limited to his opponents and their supporters. As I say, I think it’s too early to know. But he should be prepared to resign at the first sign of the juggling act being too much. Lane Lewis has done a good job as HCDP Chair, but no one is irreplaceable. If leaving will be necessary, better to do so a little too early than a little too late. A statement from candidate Philippe Nassif is here, and Campos has more.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Metro’s new rail station

Houston Central Station is finally open, though in a much less impressive form than it might have been.

Houston’s first new rail station in nearly 14 months [opened] Wednesday, but it won’t serve its main purpose – connecting riders on multiple lines – until Metro overcomes persistent delays in expanding its service.

Central Station Main, as the stop is called, is the link between the existing Red Line along Main and the upcoming Green and Purple lines that will start service in April. The station is on Main Street between the new tracks on Capitol and Rusk.

Metropolitan Transit Authority spokesman Jerome Gray said officials have already seen rider interest in the station as it neared completion. Opening it adds another stop to the Red Line in the bustling downtown area.

“People, I’m sure, are looking forward to it,” Gray said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

[…]

Central Station Main is a scaled-down version of what officials first proposed. The winner of a design competition was a bold proposal by the international firm Snohetta, spearheaded by a New York-based designer, Craig Dykers, a UT Austin grad whose parents live in Houston.

As officials worked to reconcile cost concerns with Dykers design, they feared running out of time to build the station and scrapped the Snohetta proposal in favor of a generic, albeit expanded, station.

See here and here for the background. It’s a shame the design was scaled back, but it’s still good to see tangible evidence of progress. I’ve been seeing trains running along the east-west tracks at the western end of downtown lately. The official opening date appears to have crept back a little, to the end of April, but we’re getting there. It’s only two months away. I’m ready for it, and I’m sure they are, too. Write On Metro has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Faith leaders rally for equality

Good to see.

RedEquality

Faith leaders from across Texas gathered Tuesday at the state Capitol, urging legislators to lift the state’s ban on gay marriage and pass laws forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

While some cities — such as San Antonio, Houston and Plano — have recently passed ordinances that provide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people protections against discrimination in areas like employment and housing, the faith leaders said legislation is needed to ensure those rights statewide.

“I recognize, as a happily married straight man, that I am afforded legal and social protections that our LGBT members are still not allowed in many cases,” said the Rev. Eric Folkerth of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, to a crowd of more than 200 people gathered on the Capitol’s north steps. “The idea that any of them would be discriminated against by state or local law is absolutely unacceptable.”

But the rally participants — who chanted, “We demand equality!” — are aware of the barriers they face in the Legislature. Proposals at the Capitol to prevent discrimination against LGBT people have failed for years.

[…]

“I think that we have heard a lot from the faith community, but we have only heard one side of the faith community,” said the Rev. Leslie Jackson, who came to the Capitol from the United Church of Christ in Houston to speak at the event. “There are Christians in this state that do support equality, but they are hearing from this other, dominant voice. There is another view that needs to be heard.”

The group is pushing bills such as House Bill 70 by Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, which would bar discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation, and HB 130, by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, which would repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

I agree completely with Rev. Jackson. For one, it’s never wrong to do the right thing. For two, if we don’t stand for what we believe in, no one will. For three, it’s good to remind some folks who may believe or are being told that religious liberals don’t exist that they do in fact walk this earth. We may only be able to play defense this session, but that’s a really important thing to do, and ultimately this is about the long term. Keep up the good fight and don’t give up. TFN Insider has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Views differ on SD26

From Campos.

Before the State Senate District 26 Special started, Rep. José Menéndez and fellow Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer were both good elected officials and good Democrats. This morning they are still good elected officials and good Democrats. Somebody had to win.

I have to admit I was kind of surprised with last night’s results. I guess Sen.-Elect Menéndez ran a better and smarter campaign.

Then this was tweeted last night:


I don’t know if the media is saying it was a Dem loss. I think some Dem activists might be saying it was a Dem loss. You can’t deny that the Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) folks are feeling pretty good this morning. TLR racked up a decisive victory in Dem territory.

And then this tweet from Harold Cook:


How about played better and smarter?

Who might be saying it was a Dem loss? Well, BOR for one.

Sen. Jose Menendez

Last night, State Rep. Jose Menendez scored what has largely been viewed as an upset over State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, winning 59% to 41% in a special election to replace Senator Leticia Van de Putte in SD-26.

While Menendez and Martinez Fischer have both held office as Democrats and ran for the Senate as the same, Menendez’s win has been credited in part to his support from GOP voters and groups that traditionally back Republicans.

Martinez Fischer led going into the runoff by 18%, after 19,019 votes were cast in the first round in January. Curiously, more votes were cast in the run-off for a total of 23,523, which saw Menendez go from 4,824 votes good for 25.36% to 13,888 votes amounting to 59% of the tally while Martinez Fischer increased his share from 8,232 votes to 9,635 in the run-off.

So how did Menendez do it? Apparently, with Republican support.

Christopher Hooks and Ross Ramsey also buy into this logic. I don’t know about that. Remember, SD26 wasn’t the only runoff in San Antonio on Tuesday. HD123 was also happening. That district is almost entirely within SD26. If there was an unusual influx of Republican turnout in SD26, you’d think it might have had an effect on the HD123 race as well. Except that while Sen. Menendez was clobbering TMF, Diego Bernal was outperforming President Obama by three points, in a district that’s actually a teeny bit less Democratic than SD26 overall and a special election runoff, which as both Hooks and Ramsey note had lousy turnout. If there were a disproportionate number of Republicans voting in the SD26 race, why doesn’t it show up in the HD123 race as well? Does it make sense that all these Republican voters would also support Diego Bernal, an unabashed liberal whose opponent had Greg Abbott campaigning for him? It doesn’t to me. Yet none of the writers advancing the “Menendez won with GOP support” theory even mentions HD123. Sorry, but you all get an “incomplete” on that assignment. Get back to me when you’ve addressed all the evidence.

As for Menendez being more “conservative” than average, according to Mark Jones’ magic formula, I have to ask: Can someone point me to a single consequential bill, on a subject Democratic voters care about, in which Menendez was an outlier? I’m sure something exists, but we all know who the troublemakers have been in the caucus, and Menendez’s name is not one that usually comes up. He voted against the sonogram bill in 2011. He scored a 92% on the 2013 TLCV scorecard, which was not only slightly above the Democratic average of 91%, it was also higher than TMF’s score of 86%. (The difference was a vote on SB 219, House Amendment #2: Resign to Run.) He got an A on the 2013 Equality Texas scorecard, same as TMF. He scored a nice, fat zero on the 2013 Texas Right to Life scorecard. He went to Ardmore in 2003. What am I missing here? Yes, TMF is loud and proud, and the Republicans justifiably hated him. But what are the substantive differences between them? That’s what I care about, and as far as I can tell no one can say what it is.

(OK, I can think of one difference: Labor. The Texas AFL-CIO supported TMF over Menendez in the race. I couldn’t find a scorecard for them, so I can’t quantify the difference. I can, however, quote from Ed Sills’ daily email from last night: “Menendez is no foe of labor – not by a long shot – and we don’t expect him to become one as a Senator. The Texas AFL-CIO raised no criticism of Menendez during the campaign; our materials were a positive promotion of the Martinez Fischer candidacy. We wish Sen.-elect Menendez well as he crosses over to the east side of the dome.” So again I ask: Where’s the beef?)

My point is that it’s not like the Dems just elected an Allan Ritter, or a pinche cabron like Aaron Pena. Honestly, the whole reason why this campaign – much like the one in SD06 in 2013 – was nasty and personal and not about actual issues is because there isn’t that much substantive difference between the two. I’m going to refer you to Jonathan Tilove for a good view on what happened in this race.

A lot of charges and counter charges were swapped between the old friends, but in the end, the terms of engagement, and what separated the two, was generally agreed upon and revolved around their opposite political temperaments, and the political posture Democrats – and particularly Hispanic Democrats – ought to strike in a state where they are now, but not likely forever, on the outs.

[…]

TMF is a talented politician. He has proved to be an important figure in the workings of the House, where he will remain. It would have been something beyond kabuki if he had landed in Dan Patrick’s Senate. This loss won’t kill him. All the greats – Nixon, Clinton, Obama – suffered devastating losses on their way to their destiny. He wants to play on the big stage. But the lesson of last night may be that, even on his home turf, his edges may be too rough, at least until the day that confrontational style demonstrably revs up Hispanic turnout.

That sounds right to me. And while TLR may have achieved their goal of making the Senate slightly more amenable to them, it will be a simple enough matter to keep track of Sen. Menendez’s actual votes, and challenge him in a Democratic primary if he loses his way. Which, to be clear, I don’t expect will be needed. My view is that Sen. Menendez did a better job turning out his voters, and won the argument about what style would better represent the district. And now we wait to see when the special election to fill his HD124 seat will be called and who will run for it.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Another judge finds Texas’ ban on same sex marriage to be unconstitutional

This ruling is a bit more narrow, however.

RedEquality

A Travis County judge ruled Tuesday that the Texas ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, but there was no rush to the altar after county officials — scrambling to assess the impact of the judge’s 3 p.m. order — declined to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, at least for now.

Probate Judge Guy Herman’s ruling, which affects only Travis County, came as part of an estate fight in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath sought to have her eight-year relationship with another woman, Stella Powell, declared a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer of colon cancer.

After an hourlong hearing in the downtown Austin courthouse, Herman found that the state ban on gay marriage violated the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equal protection and fair treatment under the law.

Whether the women’s relationship was a common-law marriage — which would entitle Phrasavath to a share of Powell’s estate — will be decided at a future date.

“It was never about property rights or about property,” Phrasavath said after the hearing. “At least for me, it was about standing up for my relationship and my marriage. If I didn’t do that, I would absolutely have no voice.”

[…]

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, who praised Herman for his ruling, reluctantly declined to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples “at the present time,” but said county lawyers are examining the decision to determine her options.

“Right now, I think it’s no, but we are checking,” DeBeauvoir said.

Michael Knisely, the attorney for Powell’s siblings who opposed Phrasavath’s claim on her estate, said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last month declined to intervene in the case and thus isn’t in a position to ask the 3rd Court of Appeals to review Herman’s ruling. “Our office is reviewing today’s ruling from Travis County,” Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said.

See here for the background. This ruling only affects Travis County, as Herman is a county judge. Obviously, there are the SCOTUS and Fifth Circuit appeals for the federal lawsuit, as well as the request to the Fifth Circuit to lift the stay on the original ruling. In the meantime, despite his initial lack of reaction, Ken Paxton isn’t sitting still.

Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday asked the Texas Supreme Court to issue an emergency order blocking a local probate judge’s ruling that the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

[…]

Paxton is petitioning the state’s highest court to immediately halt the ruling’s effect because it is “unnecessary and overly broad” and could give rise to “legal chaos” if county clerks interpret it to mean they can begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to the attorney general’s petition.

“The probate judge’s misguided ruling does not change Texas law or allow the issuance of a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman,” Paxton said in a statement.

And neither is Equality Texas:

Earlier today, Equality Texas called upon Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to follow the law in Travis County and immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Travis County.

On Tuesday, Travis County Judge Guy Herman issued a ruling finding that the restrictions on marriage in the Texas Family Code and in the Texas Constitution that restrict marriage to the union of a man and a woman and prohibit marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional because the restrictions violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Contrary to the county clerk’s position previously stated in the media, this ruling in fact allows her to immediately issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Travis County.

“Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir previously stated she would be happy to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once the law allows for it. The law in Travis County now allows for the freedom to marry. Equality Texas calls upon the county clerk to stand with us–on the right side of history,” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said.

Just as the Supreme Court may issue a marriage ruling this summer that applies to all 50 states, and just as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals may issue a marriage ruling any day now that applies to the 5th Circuit, Judge Herman has issued a ruling that has the effect of law in Travis County.

So things are happening, and they may change quickly. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: According to BOR, Travis County Clerk Dana deBeauvoir did issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple this morning. Wow.

Posted in: Legal matters.

San Antonio may try again on vehicles for hire

Very interesting.

Lyft

Key players at City Hall are crafting an eleventh-hour amended ordinance to stop Uber from leaving San Antonio, 10 days after the rideshare company announced plans to end service here if one of the nation’s most restrictive ordinances goes into effect on March 1.

The ordinance passed by Council in December, say supporters of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft, is so restrictive compared to other cities that it seemed designed to drive out any competitors using new technologies threatening the local taxi industry.

The working group is being led by Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1), who represents the center city, and includes Jill DeYoung, Mayor Ivy Taylor’s chief of staff, Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, and interim San Antonio Police Chief Anthony Treviño.

Councilmember Treviño confirmed the latest developments in an interview late Sunday after several sources shared details of the effort with the Rivard Report.

The group is drafting a less restrictive ordinance that could be presented to City Council for approval within weeks, and no later than March 5, Treviño said in an interview.

Uber

“I feel very positive that we are very close to a compromise agreement,” Treviño said. “We are really focusing on a policy that does not make us look like a city that stifles innovation at the same time we take care to assure the public’s safety.”

Treviño said he could not say if the proposed revisions would win the support of Mayor Ivy Taylor and others on the City Council who voted 7-2 in favor of the highly restrictive ordinance in December that prompted Uber representatives to announce they will end service in San Antonio.

[…]

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who served as San Antonio’s mayor from 1991-95, sent an open letter to Mayor Taylor one week ago on Feb. 9 that criticized the pending ordinance and how it would negatively portray San Antonio around the nation. Rideshare, he wrote, is an attractive and popular transportation option that reduces the incidence of drunk driving, and is especially appealing to skilled young professionals that cities everywhere are competing to retain and attract.

Mayoral candidate and longtime Southtown resident Mike Villarreal, who recently stepped down from his District 123 House seat in the Texas Legislature, is making rideshare a campaign issue. A campaign email blast on Sunday called on his supporters to sign a change.org petition launched by Lorenzo Gomez III, the director of the 80/20 Foundation and Geekdom, the downtown tech incubator and co-working space. Nearly 5,000 people had signed the petition by Sunday evening.

See here, here, and here for the background. There was also movement towards a lawsuit against the San Antonio ordinance, as the story notes. What would be proposed here is something more like the ordinances that other Texas cities have passed. Insurance requirements – the transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft were required to carry larger liability policies than cabdrivers were. As I understand it, the general public in San Antonio wanted to allow Uber and Lyft to operate, so this ordinance had generated some blowback. It will be interesting to see how the revised ordinance fares, especially now that Mayor Ivy Taylor has declared that she does in fact want to run for a full term. Taylor had supported the restrictive TNC ordinance, will likely be a point of attack against her by other candidates. How effective that may be I couldn’t say, but it does reinforce my belief that San Antonio should have tabled this effort until after the May election/June runoff. We’ll see if the issue still needs to be revisited under the newly-elected Mayor.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 16

The Texas Progressive Alliance sends warm thoughts to everyone in the Northeast digging themselves out from snow again as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Special election runoff results

Here you go, from the Secretary of State webpage.

SD26 Trey Martinez Fischer 9,623 40.95% Jose Menendez 13,888 59.04% HD123 Diego Bernal 5,170 63.66% Nunzio Previtera 2,950 36.33% HD13 Carolyn Cerny Bilski 4,763 42.85% Leighton Schubert 6,350 57.14% HD17 John Cyrier 4,149 52.06% Brent Golemon 3,820 47.93%

Sen. Jose Menendez

Here are stories from the Trib and Rivard Report. As usual, I can’t find a damn thing about HDs 13 or 17. I’ll do another Google News search today and see if anything comes up, and will either add them to this post or do a new one later.

Obviously, the biggest surprise to me is the Menendez/Martinez-Fischer result. I mean, I had suggested that Menendez take one for the team and drop out, in the face of TMF’s big lead and in the interest of getting the next special election, to fill the to-be-vacated legislative seat, done as quickly as possible. So it’s fair to say I didn’t see this coming. Maybe that TLR money made a difference, or maybe Menendez just had a better ground game in overtime. Either way, I congratulate Sen.-elect Jose Menendez, and apologize to him for my disturbing lack of faith.

Rep. Leighton Schubert

The other surprise is in HD13, where newcomer Leighton Schubert had an easy time of it against Carolyn Bilski. Schubert trailed by less than 11 points in Round One, and he had a decent grassroots fundraising base, so his win isn’t that big a surprise, but any time a newcomer defeats a seasoned veteran with broad establishment backing, it’s an upset. Congratulations, Rep.-elect Leighton Schubert.

HD123 was a satisfying result, with numbers that look like they likely would in a Presidential year. The first press release that hit my inbox after the polls closed was from the SEIU reveling in this outcome, and I join them in congratulating Rep.-elect Diego Bernal. I expect big things out of you, sir.

The result in HD17 is a good one, as anytime a less-conservative Republican beats a wingnut, it’s a victory. It was the one close race, and for a few moments there as the numbers trickled in it looked like it could have gone the other way, but in the end the better candidate won. Congratulations, Rep.-elect John Cyrier.

Finally, as you know, this isn’t quite the end of it. With his win, Sen. Menendez will vacate his seat in HD124, and you know what that means: One more special election, with a runoff a lively possibility to follow. At this point, I have no idea who might be lining up for that race. He or she may not get sworn in until there isn’t much left to do in the session, depending on when Greg Abbott sets the next election date and whether or not two rounds are needed. I will of course keep an eye on that. In the meantime, we can all take a breath. Congratulations again to all the winners. Get some sleep, and get ready to get to work.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Obama immigration executive order halted

For now.

JustSayNo

A federal judge late Monday halted President Barack Obama’s landmark immigration order on the eve of its implementation, denying millions of people illegally in America access to work permits and dealing a victory to Gov. Greg Abbott in his lawsuit against the program.

The decision from Judge Andrew Hanen, based in Brownsville, did not declare the executive action unconstitutional but said it should not take effect until the legal questions have been settled.

“Once these services are provided,” Hanen wrote in a 123-page ruling, “there will be no effective way of putting the toothpaste back in the tube should the plaintiffs ultimately prevail.”

Immigration activists had been bracing for an unfavorable ruling from Hanen, an appointee of President George W. Bush to the Southern District of Texas. He previously has expressed skepticism at the federal government’s ability to enforce the law at the border.

The federal government is expected to appeal the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

[…]

Hanen’s ruling arrived two days before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was set to start accepting applications for the program.

You can see a copy of the order here, and of the full ruling here. The Trib adds some gloating from Greg Abbott as well as this bit of caution:

Before the ruling was announced, David Leopold, a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he expected the Obama administration to make an emergency appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals if Hanen did not rule in its favor. The federal government would also probably ask Hanen to stay his own order while the higher courts decide the case, Leopold added.

He had said that such a decision from Hanen wasn’t necessarily the death knell for the executive action.

“He’s not the last word,” Leopold said. “That is going to come from a much higher court whether it’s the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Leopold said he expected that the litigation would slow enrollment, even if a higher court makes the ultimate decision. He added that scrutiny of the program might reduce the number of participants.

“I think [the plaintiffs] know they can’t win this case. I think what they’re trying to do is very cynically, throw pizza at the wall and see what sticks,” he said.

Leopold has been loudly criticizing this lawsuit lately. I hope he turns out to be right, but the first points on the board go to the plaintiffs. We’ll see what the Fifth Circuit does with it. Ed Kilgore, Plum Line, Vox, Think Progress, Kevin Drum, TPM, Wonkblog, Daily Kos, TNR, Daily Beast, the Trib, PDiddie, Unfair Park, Hair Balls, BOR, and Campos have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Texas Central chooses a corridor

We have a single preferred route for the Houston to Dallas high speed rail line.

Texas Central High-Speed Railway (TCR) today informed the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that it recommends narrowing the consideration of potential high-speed rail corridors between Houston and Dallas to a single preferred corridor known generally as the Utility Corridor. TCR has concluded the Utility Corridor is best suited to satisfy the goals of the project to provide reliable, safe and economically viable high-speed rail service between Dallas and Houston using the N700-I Bullet System technology.

TCR has spent several years identifying potential corridors for high-speed rail service between Dallas and Houston. To that end, TCR expended significant effort looking for solutions to engineering, construction and economic challenges associated with building high-speed rail in or along the existing Freight Corridor, and believes the Utility Corridor to be the superior alternative. Additionally, as TCR examines the various alternative alignments, one of the company’s goals is to reduce the project’s impact on communities and landowners to the extent practicable by using existing rights of way. TCR will recommend inclusion of an alternative involving the I-10 corridor as a potential approach to downtown Houston and looks forward to working with the City of Houston to evaluate this option.

TCR will now focus on potential alternatives keyed to the Utility Corridor that meet the business, environmental and connectivity priorities of the project and will submit additional information to the FRA for further detailed analysis during subsequent phases of the environmental review process.

As the Dallas Transportation Blog notes, that’s the orange line on the embedded map. The TCR announcement page also has some quotes from Houston-area elected officials, including Mayor Parker, lauding the inclusion of a possible I-10 corridor approach to downtown. That may make some critics here a bit happier, as they had been agitating for TCR to not run through Inner Loop neighborhoods – see this press release I got from the Oak Forest Homeowners Association the other day for an example – though it won’t do anything to deter the more organized opponents; see this post on the No Texas Central Facebook page to see an example of that. If nothing else, this would seem to ensure that there’s no Woodlands station in the cards, not that this was likely once Montgomery County got on board with the opposition. Whether this blunts the resistance or fires it up more remains to be seen.

The Chron fills in some details.

The preferred route would use land along the BNSF right of way parallel to Hempstead Highway, turning near Loop 610 and U.S. 290.

From there, Texas Central is changing its focus to an alignment through commercial areas around U.S. 290 and Loop 610. Elevated tracks would run along Interstate 10 to access downtown, said Robert Eckels, a former Harris County judge and president of Texas Central.

“That would take us out of the residential areas, so we are going to seriously look at that as an option,” Eckels said.

Originally, the proposal followed Union Pacific tracks along Washington into downtown Houston.

[…]

Eckels said officials are working on all of the concerns, hoping to avoid as many as possible.

“There is still a process you go through with the FRA,” he said. “We are trying to respond to the comments we have received.”

A draft environmental analysis, expected to be distributed publicly later this year, will have much more detail on the exact route. Eckels said many changes remain likely.

“Not everyone is going to be happy, but we can address many of the concerns,” he said.

Texas Central remains focused on bringing the trains downtown, if possible, and not stopping short of the central business district, Eckels said.

For a better view of what this might look like for the Houston area, see Swamplot, which zooms in on the map and highlights the possible station locations. I’ll be very interested to see what that draft environmental analysis looks like. I’m not exactly sure what an I-10 corridor would look like in this context, as there doesn’t appear to be an obvious place for the right of way that would be needed. As there are likely to be more changes coming, so are there more questions to be answered. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Remaking Allen Parkway

It’ll be different, but it makes sense.

Next summer, after workers have spent months shifting lanes, adding crosswalks and planting trees, Allen Parkway will be a parkway again, at the cost of a slight slowing of vehicle traffic and the reintroduction of traffic signals.

Partnering with the Downtown Houston Management District, city officials expect to start construction on a redesigned parkway after July 4, the date of the Freedom Over Texas celebration in Eleanor Tinsley Park just north of the parkway. The goal, downtown district president Bob Eury said, is to finish the work in time for Free Press Summer Fest in late May 2016.

When completed, the $10 million in changes planned will improve pedestrian and bicyclist access from Midtown and Montrose to the Buffalo Bayou park system and add up to 175 parking spaces for visitors to the growing outdoor offerings along the bayou.

“The goal we have is how do we improve access to this park,” said Andy Icken, chief development officer for the city.

[…]

The work planned doesn’t dramatically change the parkway’s design, only its intersections and medians. Allen Parkway is essentially three strips of pavement separated by small concrete medians. The westbound and eastbound main lanes are accompanied by an access road south of the parkway.

The redesign shifts the eastbound and westbound lanes south and converts the existing westbound lanes into an access road and parking area.

Between the lanes, officials plan grassy medians planted with small trees, meant to calm traffic and bring back some sense of an enjoyable drive.

“We are making Allen Parkway a real parkway and not a raceway,” [CM Ellen] Cohen said.

The most dramatic adjustment for drivers will be signals at four key places.

At Dunlavy, Taft and Gillette, traffic signals will give pedestrians and drivers a safer way to turn onto the parkway. Closer to downtown, officials plan a pedestrian-activated crossing, similar to the signals used along the new light rail line near the University of Houston campus.

The light stays green most of the time until activated by someone needing to cross the street. It then warns drivers by following the traditional shift from green to yellow to red, stopping traffic to let the person cross, then turning green again.

As a driver, I will miss the stoplight-free experience (except for Taft Street eastbound) that has always made Allen Parkway such a pleasure. As someone who would like to take more advantage of the new dog park and other non-car amenities, I approve. There’s no safe place to cross the street east of Montrose. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen, so taking action now is the right move. As the story notes, those lights will be green most of the time, and will add at most a minute to one’s driving time end to end. We can all live with that. If you need something to help you achieve inner peace with this, let me recommend the Psalm for Allen Parkway, which I’m going to copy here because I can’t believe that the defunct Houstonist website is still available:

1 On Allen from Shepherd, I shall not stop.

2 She maketh me to drive down concrete pastures:
she weaveth me beside the brown waters

3 She adoreth my stroll:
she leadeth me to the paths of Montroseness or the Waugh’s take.

4 Yea, though I haul through the valley of the radar of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art speedy;
the cops on Memorial they shake fists at me.

5 Thou preparest a jog path before me in the presence of El’nor Tinsley:
thou doth pointest to down-town toil,
my trip almost over.

6 Surely good views quite worthy shall carry me all through haze and the blight:
and I will dwell on your curves with my Ford forever.

Amen.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Ivy Taylor enters SA Mayor’s race

It’s on.

Mayor Ivy Taylor

Mayor Ivy Taylor declared her candidacy for mayor Monday in an exclusive interview with the San Antonio Express-News.

Taylor, who was appointed mayor last summer by her council colleagues, said that she made the decision after significant thought and prayer and consultation with trusted advisers.

The mayor said she’s been “honored and excited, humbled” by leading the seventh-largest city in the U.S. since her July appointment.

“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to be able to make an impact here,” she said. “And just after really thinking about it further, I realize how important that experience is that I have to bring to the table, that municipal-level experience.”

In recent weeks, speculation had mounted that Taylor would seek a full mayoral term, despite having told her colleagues when they appointed her last year that she had no intention of running for the seat in May. With less than three months until Election Day, she joins an already-crowded field of candidates.

[…]

Taylor is one of the longest-serving members of the current council. She was elected in 2009 to the District 2 seat and won re-elections in 2011 and 2013. When then-Mayor Julián Castro announced last summer that he was resigning his position to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Taylor was one of several council members who became candidates for appointment. She ultimately won the position, in part because of her willingness to stay out of the May 9 mayoral race.

See here and here for some background. The Rivard Report adds on.

The Rivard Report broke the story Saturday that Mayor Taylor was poised to return from a mayors’ conference in New York this week and declare her candidacy. She confirmed her candidacy in a Monday morning interview with the Rivard Report.

“It took me awhile to make this decision, I know it’s pretty late in the race,” Mayor Taylor said. “I’m not a conventional candidate, but that just mirrors my record of service. I’m not a career politician. I have a lot to offer San Antonio. My municipal experience is substantial, and we’ve had a lot of turnover on City Council so stability now would serve the city well.”

Mayor Taylor said she gained a new perspective on the mayor’s job after serving the last seven months of an interim appointment following the departure of former Mayor Julián Castro, who resigned in late July to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration.

At the time she accepted City’s Council’s unanimous appointment, Mayor Taylor said, she had not considered running for the office after her term as the District 2 Council member came to an end.

“Without a crystal ball, I don’t know how anyone can know what they will do in the future, what’s right when the moment comes,” Mayor Taylor said, adding that she was appreciative of community leaders who are supportive of her decision to change her mind and enter the race.

I don’t live in San Antonio, and as interested as I am in this race, I don’t have a preferred candidate. I don’t think Mayor Taylor’s earlier words about not wanting to seek election this May are a big deal, though I suppose if I were a Council member that supported her on the grounds that she didn’t intend to run, I might grumble a bit. With four credible candidates (former Rep. Mike Villarreal, soon-to-be-former Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, former Commissioner Tommy Adkisson being the other three) and thirteen (!) total candidates according to Randy Bear, it’s a question of how much support do you need to get to the runoff, and who has the clearest path to it. I have no idea at this point what will happen, but it should be fun to watch. Texas Leftist has more.

Posted in: Election 2015.

HD17 runoff overview

It’s Runoff Day today for the legislative special elections, and this overview of the HD17 runoff gives a good idea of what to expect from the winner in that race.

Jon Cyrier

As Republicans John Cyrier and Brent Golemon prepare to settle the score Tuesday, that ho-hum first round seems like the distant past. The once low-key affair has turned into an increasingly bitter runoff that has exposed intra-party divisions and highlighted political fault lines in the largely rural, Central Texas district.

“It’s has been one the more contentious political campaigns in my recollection for Bastrop County or for District 17, particularly since there was no clear winner in the special election and then the runoff was delayed for a few weeks,” said Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape, one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the district. “Each side kind of had more time to state their case and try to build their, excite their constituencies.”

Cyrier, a Lockhart construction executive and former Caldwell County commissioner, emerged as the top vote-getter in the Jan. 6 special election for the district, which spans five counties. Kleinschmidt, a Republican from Lexington, vacated the seat to serve as general counsel for the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Cyrier is favored to ride his first-round momentum to victory Tuesday, potentially notching a win for the more moderate faction of the Texas GOP that suffered some high-profile losses in last year’s primaries. From the outset of the race, Cyrier has pitched himself as an unabashed bridge-builder while Golemon has emphasized his conservative credentials.

[…]

On the issues, Golemon has sought to distinguish himself as a more forceful supporter of education reform and anti-abortion policies. He supports a ban on abortion without exceptions, while Cyrier believes an abortion should be allowed if a mother’s life is at risk. On school choice – a top priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – Golemon has offered his full-throated support, while Cyrier has expressed concern about how it would impact rural schools.

Perhaps the most notable contrast has been Cyrier’s decision to strike a decisively bipartisan tone in what is effectively a GOP primary. [Mark] Jones, the political science professor, called it the “most prominent storyline of the campaign,” a departure from other intra-party faceoffs in which each candidates race to the right.

See here for some background. It’s interesting that Golemon hasn’t drawn the kind of big money support from the professional nihilist crowd that a candidate with his talking points in a race like this usually gets. I’m not sure what’s up with that – if it’s worth spending big bucks for a marginal potential upgrade in a Democratic Senate district, you’d think it’d be worth a few bucks for a more clear upgrade here, with a presumably more receptive audience. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, just a little puzzled. We’ll know soon enough if those folks will have any reason to regret sitting this one out.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Don’t stop fighting for choice

That’s the message I take from this.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

They’re pushing a boulder up a hill in the conservative Texas Legislature. But three House Democrats remain laser-focused on repealing the 24-hour waiting period for abortion imposed by the state’s 2011 sonogram law.

“This 24-hour waiting period has proven to be ineffective, unnecessary and cruel,” state Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat and the chairwoman of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, said at a Thursday press conference. “It does not change a pregnant Texas woman’s decision.”

[…]

Farrar’s House Bill 709, which was filed in January, would not repeal the requirement that a doctor perform a sonogram before an abortion is performed. It would only remove the provision of the law that requires the sonogram to take place 24 hours before an abortion — which abortion rights advocates say is an obstacle for low-income women who struggle with transportation and child care, and face an already dwindling number of clinics.

Farrar acknowledged that there isn’t enough support in the Legislature to repeal the measure.

“That doesn’t stop us from continuing to talk about this, because the worst thing that can happen is that we all become silent,” Farrar said. “I think history has shown that because people are vocal over time, eventually you have success.”

The 24-hour waiting period bill is part of a package of women’s health legislation filed by Farrar, state Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, and state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. Those lawmakers are leading a policy campaign to improve reproductive care in Texas. The other bills include measures allowing more comprehensive sex education in Texas schools and carving out a “professional judgment exception” that would give medical professionals performing abortion-related services room to circumvent some state requirements.

Farrar filed a similar 24-hour waiting period bill during the 2013 legislative session, but it died in committee. She said the waiting period is even more burdensome now than it was last session because of the recent closure of so many clinics.

The Austin Chronicle adds more details.

Austin Rep. Donna Howard’s HB 1210 prevents physicians from being penalized for refusing to comply with certain abortion-related directives, including providing inaccurate or inappropriate information. (Like the medically questionable state-approved “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet that links abortion to breast cancer – given to abortion patients.) “We’ve seen repeated instances of Texas lawmakers inserting themselves into the doctor-patient relationship,” said Howard, a former registered nurse. “… I spoke with numerous doctors who mentioned they were having to choose between their best medical judgment and the directives that were forced onto them by legislators. Politics should never take precedence over medical judgment and certainly not when the health and safety of a mother is at risk.”

[…]

Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, highlighted her House Bill 78 (co-authored by Howard), which seeks to improve sexual education in Texas public schools, an effort to help prevent unintended pregnancies by providing students with medically accurate and evidence-based facts.

Look, I’m well aware of how the last election went, and of what the odds are of any of these bills seeing the light of day. But do you think things are going to get better or worse if we sit on our hands and do nothing over the next few years? It’s one thing to make a strategic retreat and live to fight another day, it’s another thing entirely to give up fighting. If we don’t stand for what we believe in, who will? KUHF has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Losing our sports history

This is sad.

The original championship banners for the Rockets and the WNBA’s defunct Comets remain on display at Toyota Center, as do banners saluting both teams’ representatives in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

After that, Houston’s legacy of pro sports banners gets a little fuzzy.

The latest collection of banners to depart the city left in 2013 with the Aeros. The minor hockey team was moved by the NHL’s Minnesota Wild to Des Moines, Iowa, when the team could not reach agreement on a new Toyota Center lease with the Rockets.

Team officials said the Aeros’ 2011 banner for winning the American Hockey League’s Western Division title is on display at the Wild’s training center in Des Moines.

As for the other Aeros banners, they are presumed to be in storage in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, although team officials could not provide details on their location. A team spokesman, in fact, was not familiar with any banners that existed other than the 2011 flag.

Regardless, Toyota Center once was home to banners commemorating the 2003 Calder Cup title, the 1999 International Hockey League Turner Cup title, the 1974 and 1975 Avco Cup titles won by the World Hockey Association team, and the retired No. 9 jersey worn by Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, who played for the WHA Aeros.

[…]

NRG Park spokeswoman Nina Jackson, asked this week about the location of the Astros memorabilia, said, “Nobody knows anything about any banners.”

There was no indication whether the banners were sold during the Astrodome “garage sale” in 2013 and, if not, whether they still are stored somewhere within the building.

Similar questions surround the Oilers’ championship banners and retired number banners. The Oilers left Houston after the 1996 season for Nashville, Tenn., and a spokesman for the Tennessee Titans said the Oilers banners have not been seen in storage in Nashville.

So thanks to two relocated (and renamed) franchises plus one that changed its home stadium, a lot of tangible pieces of Houston’s sports history are at best in unknown locations. The obvious solution to this would seem to be a local sports museum, whose first task would be to try and track down these things that no one will admit to having at this time. Maybe this story will be a catalyst for someone with the money and the inclination to pursue that. Until then, at least we still have people who remember that these things did once happen.

Posted in: Other sports.

Voter fingerprint ID

This has superficial appeal, but I don’t believe it holds up under close scrutiny.

Fingerprints can now be used to unlock smart phones, car engines, even guns. Why not ballots, too?

A New Mexico legislator has just proposed that his state’s election officials study the feasibility of a biometric voter identification system. The idea is simple enough: Rather than require voters to show a particular type of document that not everyone possesses, the law could require election officials to collect a piece of information – a finger image or an eye scan – from all voters, which would confirm their identity at the polls.

The political appeal of the idea is clear: Republicans would have the ID laws they claim are needed to protect against voter fraud. And Democrats would have a system that doesn’t disproportionately hurt minorities and the poor. Both parties could declare victory in the war over voter ID and move on.

To be sure, it would be an expensive way to prevent a crime that is all but nonexistent: voter impersonation. If that were the only rationale, it would be hard to justify the cost.

But in addition to freeing voters from photo ID requirements, it would bring other benefits. In states where felons are not allowed to vote, for example, biometric images could be cross-checked with prison records to identify anyone who is illegally registered. A biometric ID would also allow election officials to make their notoriously unreliable voter rolls more accurate.

So what could be wrong with that? Several things, actually. Off the top of my head:

1. Not to put too fine a point on it, but fingerprint identification is more problematic than you might think. That’s a long article, which you should read, but the crux of it is in these three paragraphs:

Fingerprint examiners lack objective standards for evaluating whether two prints “match.” There is simply no uniform approach to deciding what counts as a sufficient basis for making an identification. Some fingerprint examiners use a “point-counting” method that entails counting the number of similar ridge characteristics on the prints, but there is no fixed requirement about how many points of similarity are needed. Six points, nine, twelve? Local practices vary, and no established minimum or norm exists. Others reject point-counting for a more holistic approach. Either way, there is no generally agreed-on standard for determining precisely when to declare a match. Although fingerprint experts insist that a qualified expert can infallibly know when two fingerprints match, there is, in fact, no carefully articulated protocol for ensuring that different experts reach the same conclusion.

Although it is known that different individuals can share certain ridge characteristics, the chance of two individuals sharing any given number of identifying characteristics is not known. How likely is it that two people could have four points of resemblance, or five, or eight? Are the odds of two partial prints from different people matching one in a thousand, one in a hundred thousand, or one in a billion? No fingerprint examiner can honestly answer such questions, even though the answers are critical to evaluating the probative value of the evidence of a match. Moreover, with the partial, potentially smudged fingerprints typical of forensic identification, the chance that two prints will appear to share similar characteristics remains equally uncertain.

The potential error rate for fingerprint identification in actual practice has received virtually no systematic study. How often do real-life fingerprint examiners find a match when none exists? How often do experts erroneously declare two prints to come from a common source? We lack credible answers to these questions. Although some FBI proficiency tests show examiners making few or no errors, these tests have been criticized, even by other fingerprint examiners, as unrealistically easy. Other proficiency tests show more disturbing results: In one 1995 test, 34 percent of test-takers made an erroneous identification. Especially when an examiner evaluates a partial latent print—a print that may be smudged, distorted, and incomplete—it is impossible on the basis of our current knowledge to have any real idea of how likely she is to make an honest mistake. The real-world error rate might be low or might be high; we just don’t know.

Would you want your vote to hinge on that? Maybe it would all go off without a hitch, but what happens if it doesn’t?

2. Would we be matching to a central database? That assumes everyone has been fingerprinted and that their prints are in that central database. I don’t have to spell out the privacy, security, and civil liberties objections to that, do I? Suppose instead that rather than match to a database, you use your fingerprint to sign in, and it is then sent to all the other voting locations to prevent you from trying to vote again elsewhere. This only works if you have reliable network connectivity. What’s the protocal for if it goes down? These are perhaps solvable problems, but they are problems and they would need to be addressed before this can be taken seriously.

3. And then we get into the political objections. Democrats would be hesitant to go along with this because it legitimizes the stated premise for voter ID, which is that there is such a thing as in person voter fraud that needs to be – and can be – stopped by this kind of countermeasure. Beyond the fact that Bigfoot sightings are more common than credible instances of in person voter fraud, this would still not address security concerns about absentee ballots, which have historically been more subject to abuse. Having said that, it’s possible Dems could make a pragmatic choice to accept some sort of voter fingerprint ID scheme in return for, say, same day voter registration or some other proposal to increase voting access, but then you run into the likely Republican objections to this. Any assumption that there’s a compromise to be reached begins with the assumption that Republican backers of voter ID are, against all evidence, sincere about solving a problem and do not want to make it harder for anyone to vote. But even if you do accept that, from the Republican perspective most of their objective in implementing voter ID have been achieved. Between the laws passed by various states since 2011, and the Supreme Court gutting of the Voting Rights Act, Republicans believe, with justification, that they’re winning on voter ID. If you believe you’re winning, what’s your incentive to make a deal? I don’t see what it would be.

So yeah, I don’t see this happening. There’s no natural constituency for it, and even if there were I don’t know that I’d favor it. Voter ID, in any form, remains a solution in search of a problem.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

More candidate updates

Another Council hopeful tosses his hat into the ring, though we don’t know exactly which office he intends to seek just yet.

Tom McCasland

Tom McCasland, who took over the Harris County Housing Authority after it suffered in scandal, will run for an at-large city council seat this year, according to a campaign treasurer designation.

McCasland told the Chronicle Thursday that he has not yet decided which of the five at-large seats to seek, but that he plans to make a decision over the next month-and-a-half. Incumbents are term-limited in at-large positions 1 and 4, and those vacancies have drawn most of the candidates over the past six months.

“I’m taking a look at all the options,” he said.

The HCHA director designated a treasurer for a campaign committee and a separate specific-purpose political action committee to support his campaign this week. He said he currently is assembling a campaign team and raising money.

See this Chron story for some background on McCasland, and this story for a brief refresher on the mess he inherited at HCHA. The Houston Politics post also mentions that McCasland worked on Bill White’s 2010 campaign for Governor. Far as I can recall I’ve never met him and don’t know anything about him beyond what I’ve noted here. Sometimes, people who say they’re running for “something” but don’t specify what wind up not running for anything. We’ll see what happens here.

Meanwhile, two other candidates who had previously been reported to be running for something have confirmed their candidacies. The first announcement to hit my inbox this past week came from Amanda Edwards, who is now officially a candidate for At Large #4. You can read her press release here.

The other candidate to confirm what we had expected to be true is Bill Frazer, who sent out a media advisory saying that he will formally announce his candidacy for Controller on February 17. Frazer is one of three sure candidates, with two others still on the periphery. February is prime candidate-announcing time, so expect this sort of thing to continue for the next few weeks at least.

Posted in: Election 2015.