Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

First steps in Montgomery County

You can’t win a race if you don’t have a candidate.

Michael Hayles

Democrat Michael Hayles says Montgomery County’s poor have to balance some tough choices, and he extends his arms in a rocking motion to make the point.

“Do I get cars fixed or do I buy food for my family?” Hayles said.

Hayles has been working with the poor for years and now hopes to take that experience to Austin. A candidate for the state legislature, Hayles, 58, is the only Democrat running for office in Montgomery County, one of the most conservative regions in the country.

He is also the first candidate to run against a Republican in the county in six years. No Democrat has beaten a Republican in more than two decades.

While Conroe native Will Metcalf said he is confident he can build on the momentum of his May primary victory and maintain the GOP’s winning streak, Hayles hopes to defy experts, history and fundraising barriers by getting more of those in need to vote.

“They’ve been ignored enough by local politicians,” Hayles said.

The 16th state House district, which is just north of The Woodlands and encompasses the cities of Conroe and Montgomery and communities as far east as Cut and Shoot, was represented by Brandon Creighton, who was elected to the state Senate in a special election last August.

Hayles said he plans to meet with community groups in poorer, outlying areas of the district like Dobbin and Deerwood. He tells residents that he’ll look after their interests.

The Democrat said he will focus on enabling those in need to get jobs through education and also use public dollars to invest in the area’s infrastructure. Texas’s budget surplus needs to be invested in education instead of tax breaks, he said.

Running for office at any level and in any geographic entity is difficult, but some races are tougher than others. To put this race into perspective, Bill White scored 22.48% in HD16 in 2010. Farther down the ballot, Hector Uribe, the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner, scored 15.40%. Let’s just say this is a long-term project and go from there. Still, the first step on this thousand-mile journey is finding good people to take on this thankless task, and have them find and talk to the people that have been left out by the dominant political culture. I’m sure the vast majority of the people he talks to, however many of them he does get to, will not have had that experience before. That’s important, and it’s something that candidates and groups like Battleground Texas and the Texas Organizing Project can build on. I’ll be interested to see how Hayles does in comparison to that benchmark.

Like I said, Step One is to engage the people that live there and work to turn them into voters. This Chron story from a couple of weeks ago gave another peek into that in Montgomery County.

As accordion-heavy music played in the background, Lucia Mendez hunched over an electronic voting machine under a canopy, learning about the displays and controls she would see on Election Day.

Mendez, 19, said she had never voted before. But on Sunday, at a festival put on by the Montgomery County Democratic Party geared toward the region’s growing Latino population, Mendez registered to vote for the first time.

“If you want something to change you’ve got to be part of it,” Mendez said at the Conroe park where the event was held.

In one of the most conservative regions in the country, where whites dominate most political offices, community leaders say that Hispanics such as Mendez have felt perpetually disenfranchised even though they now make up one-fifth of the population.

Both major parties are trying to tap into the potential Latino voter base, with Democrats hoping they can tip the scale in a county that has been red for decades and Republicans looking to strengthen their supremacy.

Mendez said she wouldn’t commit to a party. But for Democrats in Montgomery County, just recruiting Hispanic voters like Mendez, who lives in Willis and feels strongly about immigration issues, to register is a victory.

“We want them all to come out and vote,” said Bruce Barnes, the county’s Democratic Party chairman.

Over the last 15 years, the Hispanic population in the county has nearly tripled, from around 37,000 in 2000 to more than 100,000 people in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. People of Hispanic or Latino origin make up more than 20 percent of the county of 500,000, up from 13 percent in 2000, according to the most recent estimates.

Texas will be Massachusetts by the time Montgomery becomes a swing county, but that doesn’t mean efforts like these aren’t important. Turning Montgomery from a 75% GOP county to a 65% county would be a big step forward. Going back to the 2010 Governor’s race, if Bill White had lost by a 65-35 margin there, he would have netted a bit more than 25,000 extra votes. At that less hopeless level, you can seriously talk about winning municipal races, and build a bit of a bench with an eye towards a State Rep seat or a County Commissioner post. This is what the Republicans were doing all over the state forty and fifty years ago. No time like the present for the Democrats to be doing it as well.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Endorsement watch: DMN drops the ball

The Dallas Morning News got off to a good start as it wrapped up its election endorsements by making the crystal-clear case for Leticia Van de Putte.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

There are a couple of ways to keep your house warm this winter. You could choose the reliable heater you’ve known for years. Or you could keep gasoline and matches handy next to a fire pit you dig in the living room.

Most of us are going to pick the heater. The other choice seems … reckless.

Your vote for lieutenant governor isn’t so different. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat, has been a steady legislative hand for two decades. Her opponent, Republican Sen. Dan Patrick, is potentially explosive, impact unclear.

[...]

It’s often hard to know whether Patrick, 64, says what he means and means what he says. He’s a great talker, even a fast talker. Many Democrats find him distasteful, but even some prominent Republicans describe him as untrustworthy.

And when he says things like he pushed to restore funding for Texas schools, double-check. Patrick did seek to restore $1.5 billion of some $5.4 billion in education funds lost in 2011. But when the Senate passed a budget that restored $3.4 billion to Texas’ schoolchildren, Patrick voted no. Tommy Williams, the Senate’s Republican finance chairman at the time, concluded that Patrick was looking out for his political interests over the state’s policy concerns.

Texas’ most conservative voters might be attracted to Patrick’s tough talk about illegal immigrants and his anti-government image. But business-minded Texans might ask what they are really getting in him.

Big talk might be impressive. Quiet results are better.

It would be nice to think that “business-minded Texans” might view this race in that fashion, but as is typical of them the Texas Association of Business has endorsed Patrick, because of course the promise of tax cuts – any tax cuts – easily trumps whatever bromides they tend to burble on about regarding education or immigration reform. But hey, the choice is yours, and no one can say we won’t know what we’re getting.

And then the followed it up with this:

Texas Republicans’ hard-right swing in recent years is troubling. Too many Texans feel alienated by a ruling party that seems indifferent, for example, to the plight of the working poor, the uninsured or youths caught through no fault of their own in immigration limbo.

As governor, Abbott must be a moderating influence and guide a realignment of his party. He has outlined plans that could advance that effort. Where Davis would be likely to encounter ideological battles at every turn, Abbott has the best chance to inspire legislative progress.

Davis has fought valiantly. But for all her progressive promise, and alignment with this newspaper on many issues, Texas cannot afford to provoke the kind of partisan stalemate her victory would probably bring, much like the gridlock that has paralyzed Washington. As much as Texas needs to counterbalance its GOP hard-liners, we fear Davis would only invigorate them.

Wayne and Noah have appropriately indignant responses, so I’ll leave that part of this to them. What I will add is that this smells exactly like the DMN editorial board realizing they had endorsed Democrats in the other three top slots and deciding they didn’t want to deal with the blowback that would come from going with their preferred choice. This election, more than most, comes down to “stay the course” versus “it’s time for a change”. One can certainly make an honest and consistent case for staying the course. I’ll argue with you till our faces turn blue if you do, but that’s politics. What the DMN did here doesn’t even rise to the level of sophistry. It’s pure cowardice, and they should be ashamed of themselves. Intellectually, it’s on par with endorsing Ted Cruz in 2012 on the hope that he might forsake everything he said on the campaign trail and turn into Kay Bailey Hutchison 2.0 once sworn in. They know it’s a pile of crap, everyone reading it knows it’s a pile of crap, and yet there they go printing it anyway. How proud they must be of that endorsement.

I didn’t expect Davis to dominate the endorsements as VdP, Sam Houston, and Mike Collier have. Seeing this turd from the DMN makes me think we might be in for a long weekend of more of the same, for the same reasons. On that note, here’s the Star-Telegram’s endorsement of Van de Putte.

Van de Putte is better suited to be lieutenant governor.

Patrick could very well be running for Texas secretary of defense, if there were such an office, since his emphasis in the campaign is to “defend” his fellow Texans — against threats on the border and in sanctuary cities; dangers on college campuses due to guns being banned there; intrusions from Washington, D.C., particularly by President Barack Obama; and those who threaten “life and traditional marriage.”

He says his top priority will be to protect the state’s southern border, which he insists is being overrun not only by illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America and by vicious drug cartels, but also by Islamic State terrorists who “threaten to cross our border and kill Americans.”

Van de Putte, who proclaims herself a “pro-business Democrat,” describes her opponent as practicing the “politics of fear.”

A mother of six with six grandchildren, Van de Putte criticizes Patrick for wanting to increase the state sales tax as a way to bring down property taxes, and for voting against more funding for public schools while advocating state-supported vouchers for private schools.

“Where Dan Patrick sees our schools and students as an expense, I see them as an investment,” she told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board.

[...]

Texas deserves a strong, reasoned, hardworking and fair individual serving in this top administrative and legislative position.

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor.

As with the others, they go this one right. What will the four non-DMN papers do with the top race? I recommend they read what the Austin Chronicle has to say before they begin typing, but I won’t hold my breath in anticipation.

Elsewhere, the Chron makes its biennial plea for someone, anyone, to rid them of the curse that is John Culberson.

District 7: James Cargas

After seven terms in the congressional seat once held by George Bush, John Culberson remains a backbencher in Washington, more follower than leader. The 58-year-old congressman has marginalized himself by clinging to an antiquated view of government and being more right-wing bomb-thrower than builder. The self-proclaimed “Jeffersonian Republican” has pandered to Obama-hating “birthers,” cavalierly supported government shutdowns and taken up Tom DeLay’s mantle as chief saboteur of Houston’s light rail system. In the 7th district, which goes from Bellaire through the Galleria to the Energy Corridor then north to Jersey Village, it’s time for a change. We endorse Democratic challenger James Cargas, who also ran in 2012. Cargas, 48, is a reasoned moderate more interested in working for the common good than scoring empty political points. He has worked in Congress, the White House, the Department of Energy and currently is Mayor Annise Parker’s “energy” lawyer. He supports light rail, reasonable immigration policy and energy development, including fracking, a big issue in a district thick with oil companies. Unlike Culberson, he’ll be a constructive force in Congress, which would be a welcome change.

Clip and save for 2016 and beyond, that’s my advice. And finally, to end on an even more ridiculous note than the DMN’s hare-brained endorsement of Greg Abbott, I give you this. You’re welcome.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Friday random ten: V for Victory

I’m never sure with these higher-scoring Scrabble letters if I can get ten artist or band names out of them, but V presented no problems.

1. Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love – Van Halen
2. And It Stoned Me – Van Morrison
3. Turning Japanese – The Vapors
4. White Boots – Vaughan Brothers
5. Rock and Roll – Velvet Underground
6. Turn The Beat Around – Vicki Sue Robinson
7. Harbor – Vienna Teng
8. Y.M.C.A. – Village People
9. Linus And Lucy – Vince Guaraldi Trio
10. Add It Up – Violent Femmes

That’s a pretty solid playlist there. Sometimes these lists include a few of my more obscure tunes, but all ten here are ones I can easily conjure up in my mind. Good way to go into the weekend.

Posted in: Music.

Judicial Q&A: Tanner Garth

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Tanner Garth

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Tanner Garth. I am the Democratic candidate for the 281st Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Civil District Courts have a very broad jurisdiction. They basically hear all cases other than family law, probate, juvenile and criminal cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have been very fortunate in my law practice and I feel very strongly the desire to give back to the system that has given me so much. I am passionate about the law and the critical right we all have to have our disputes resolved in an orderly and fair process by a jury. I have watched our system of justice come under attack by those who seek to manipulate the system to protect or insulate themselves from responsibility for their actions. I want to fight to protect our constitutionally guaranteed right to trial by jury and feel that I can best do so from within the system. I believe that our Trial Court Judges are in place in large part to protect the rights of those who come before them.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I received my undergraduate degree in History from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, in 1979. In college I was a member of the Student Senate, a resident assistant and both the pledge class and fraternity President of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. I received my J.D. from South Texas College of Law in 1987. I excelled in law school where I was a member of The South Texas Law Review, The Order of the Lytae for legal scholarship, The Order of the Barristers for excellence in courtroom advocacy, principal advocate on the National Mock Trial Team and I graduated Cum Laude near the top of my class. I immediately took and passed the Bar Exam and began my legal practice.

In my career I have had the opportunity and privilege to represent both plaintiffs and defendants in a wide variety of cases in varied forums. The types of cases I have handled and tried to conclusion include: divorce and child custody, personal injury (for both plaintiff and defendant), commercial disputes, insurance coverage, oil and gas, whistleblower, libel and slander, mass torts, mass nuisance, construction defect and mass construction defect, product liability, environmental contamination, drug and nursing home and both medical and legal malpractice and many others. This experience has been gained throughout Texas in both Federal and State Courts. I am Board Certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I am or have been a member of the State Bar of Texas, Houston Bar Association, Houston Trial Lawyers Association (director), Texas Trial Lawyers Association (director) and the American Association of Justice. I am very proud to have been recognized by my peers by being selected to be a member of The American Board of Trial Advocates. I was an adjunct professor at South Texas College of Law teaching trial skills for three years. I have completed the A.A. White Mediation Course and also have begun serving as an arbitration neutral. My practice has been balanced and successful. I will take that excellence and experience to the bench.

5. Why is this race important?

All of the judicial races are important. Citizens come to these courts to protect their rights, property and even their families and future. The Judges that sit on these benches must have the background and capability to fairly preside over these matters which, to the participants, are often of “life and death” importance. We must elect judges who can step into these vital roles immediately, command the respect of the attorneys and parties who come before them and be prepared from day one.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the only candidate in this race with the necessary trial experience, life experience and career background to excel as a trial court judge. Becoming a judge is not a last-minute whim or a career fallback. For me, it is a long time goal and one I have prepared myself for through my education, experience and career. I have worked hard and will continue to work hard to be a source of pride to the party and a champion of the party’s principals and goals. I am a lifelong Democrat and have given freely of myself to support the party and its members. Our trial court judges must have the temperament and demeanor to treat all who come before them with courtesy, respect and dignity. Due to my background and experience, I have this temperament and demeanor. I will return civility to the 281st District Court.

Posted in: Election 2014.

The outrage machine is fully engaged

We’ll see how long they can keep it up.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

A legal battle between the city of Houston and religious leaders has erupted into a national debate this week about religious liberty and freedom of speech, even as Mayor Annise Parker argued the controversy was based on a misunderstanding.

Conservative lawmakers and activists expressed outrage upon learning that lawyers acting on behalf of the city had sent subpoenas this month to pastors who had vocally supported a failed petition drive aimed at repealing Houston’s equal rights ordinance.

[...]

Various public officials, including religious liberty advocates, have condemned the subpoenas as censorship and an attack on religious liberty.

“This week, the government of Houston, Texas, sent a subpoena to silence prayers,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said Thursday at a news conference in Houston.

Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Houston City Attorney David Feldman urging him to withdraw the subpoenas.

“No matter what public policy is at stake, government officials must exercise the utmost care when our work touches on religious matters,” Abbott wrote. “If we err, it must be on the side of preserving the autonomy of religious institutions and the liberty of religious believers. Your aggressive and invasive subpoenas show no regard for the very serious First Amendment considerations at stake.”

State Sen. Ken Paxton, the Republican candidate to replace Abbott as attorney general, called the subpeonas “unacceptable.”

“Not only does this infringe upon the right to Freedom of Speech, but it also grossly encroaches upon our Freedom of Religion — both fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution,” Paxton said.

Blah blah blah and so on and so forth. I agree that the subpoenas were too broad. I might have some sympathy for the pastors if there were anything sympathetic about them, but man, the lies lies lies lies. You’d think by now I’d be used to it, but somehow I’m still amazed by these guys and their loudest defenders to just say whatever the hell they think without any regard for its truthfulness. It’s impressive it its way, and it does do the job of getting some people riled up. You’d just think they might be more concerned about the cost to their souls than a heathen like me.

Both Parker and Feldman have said that they did not approve the subpoenas ahead of time and first saw the language used in them on Tuesday. The subpoenas were handled by outside lawyers working on behalf of the city. Both agreed that the language in the subpoenas was overly broad and would be clarified.

“We are not interested at all in what some person may have preached about me or the GLBT community,” Parker said Wednesday at a news conference. “People are rightly concerned if a government entity tries to in any way inhibit religious speech. That is not the intent.”

Parker said the goal of the subpoenas was to see if there were any specific instructions given by pastors about how the petitions should be filled out. She suggested that the outrage over the word “sermon” in the supboneas may have been due to “deliberate misinterpretation.”

“Let me just say that one word in a very long legal document which I know nothing about and would never have read and I’m vilified coast to coast — it’s a normal day at the office for me,” Parker said.

That’s about the right response. Parker and Feldman have addressed the substantive issue. I hope they don’t get intimidated by the BS onslaught. The city should be on firm ground seeking communications about specific petition instructions. Amend the subpoenas as needed, stick to that, and let the blowhards wear themselves out. For some guidance on how to think about this, go read The Slacktivist, and for a straightforward recital of the boring facts, see Media Matters.

Posted in: Local politics.

Chron overview of the AG race

Couple of interesting tidbits in here.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

A tea party darling with a dozen years in the state Legislature, Sen. Ken Paxton has avoided the media since admitting to a third-degree felony violation of state securities law in late April. Spokesman Anthony Holm serves as his gatekeeper – even once physically blocking a reporter from approaching the candidate – while Paxton refuses to release his public schedule or meet with newspaper editorial boards.

The McKinney Republican refused multiple interview requests for this story.

Democratic opponent Sam Houston is Paxton’s foil in almost every way. So eager to garner media attention and sow unease about his opponent’s past, the Houston lawyer holds press conferences with few or no attendees. He has never held office, though he came closer than anyone expected in a recent bid for the Texas Supreme Court, and only jumped in the attorney general’s race after finding that no other Democrat intended to enter.

The importance of the position cannot be oversold. The attorney general decides what legal battles to wage on behalf of the state, and what information should and can be released to the public by government officials and agencies. This year, Abbott steered the debate over abortion, gay marriage, voter identification and the disclosure of dangerous chemical information. His successor will help determine the future of public school funding and much more.

Paxton has said he would take up Abbott’s mantle to act as a bulwark between Texas and “federal encroachment.” Houston views the office differently. In an interview with the Chronicle, he said he disagreed with many of Abbott’s decisions, but none more than his repeated lawsuits against the federal government: “A lawsuit ought to be your very last resort, and it shouldn’t be a campaign slogan. It doesn’t do any dang good.”

Both men recognize the attorney general’s duty is to the law, but Houston said the office should be an advocate for the entire state and “not just certain interests.”

“I think there might be situations when you say, ‘the state’s acting unconstitutionally. Well, I’m going to take my role as a public official and I’m not going to defend that,’” said Houston. He called Abbott’s insistence that he can’t settle the state’s school finance lawsuit “a cop out,” and said as attorney general he would work on a settlement.

After 12 years in the Legislature, Paxton consistently is described by his Senate and former House colleagues as a soft-spoken, introspective lawmaker, a quiet ideologue. Never a bomb-thrower, he gained notoriety by remaining cordial with his colleagues while challenging moderate Republicans on policy and leadership. He is heavily endorsed by tea party groups and backed by divisive figures like conservative powerbroker Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose Empower Texans PAC helped give Paxton the financial upper hand against Houston by lending his campaign more than $1 million.

[...]

In his early years in the Legislature, Paxton spoke up on education and transparency issues, complaining in 2005 he had been “inundated by government lobbyists” during the session. He opposed tax increases, voted against equal pay efforts and co-sponsored Texas’ 2011 voter identification bill, which a federal judge ruled unconstitutional last week. He has been a leader on anti-abortion legislation, including the state’s pre-abortion sonogram requirement. He voted for requiring drug testing for welfare recipients and was one of only four senators to vote against the 2013 state budget that funneled billions back into public school funding “because it was too big.”

[...]

Paxton consistently is popular with tea party Republicans, but not with more moderate members of his party. Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas and a Branch supporter in the runoff, has thrown his support behind him despite concerns with Paxton’s media strategy and his refusal to debate his opponent. Bob Deuell, another long-time moderate Republican senator ousted by a tea partyer this year, said he could not support Paxton: “I’m just probably not going to vote in that race.”

“He’s not going to stick his neck out on any issues,” Deuell said. “But I don’t lose any sleep about him being attorney general. The world’s not going to come to an end.”

Deuell is a moderate in the same way that I’m an anarcho-syndicalist, but never mind that for now. Most of what’s in this section isn’t new, but it’s good to have a reminder that 1) the AG office is really important, 2) Ken Paxton is fully aware that he’s in deep doo-doo, no matter how hard is poor overworked spokesperson has to issue the same stale denials, and 3) Paxton is a stone ideologue who will continue Greg Abbott’s practice of representing the interests of the Republican Party over everyone else’s, regardless of the cost, correctness, or likelihood of success. I hope Bob Deuell has a lot of company here, because we’re going to need it to get Sam Houston elected.

Speaking of, here’s the smaller section of the story about Sam Houston:

Sam Houston’s name is certainly memorable, but it is not the one he claimed at birth. He was born Samuel Jones in Colorado City in 1963. His parents divorced soon after, and his father disappeared when he was a toddler, Houston said. His mother remarried and he took on his stepfather’s notable moniker.

The grandson of farmers and ranchers, Houston grew up working in his family’s auto shop. He first left the sleepy west Texas town to attend the University of Texas at Austin, after which he proceeded to Baylor for law school. He and Paxton overlapped by one year there, but their paths never crossed.

Houston married his college sweetheart soon after the two moved to Houston in the mid-1980s. But by 1993, she had developed colon cancer and died three years later. Houston said he spiraled emotionally, culminating in a 1997 arrest for driving while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty, served six months probation.

It was meeting and marrying his second wife that likely ended the cycle, Houston said: “I had a couple of really hard years. … I can say Jantha probably pulled me out of it, to be honest with you.”

I must say, I knew none of that before reading this story. That doesn’t happen to me very often these days. It would have been interesting to have seen how some of this information might have been conveyed and received if Ken Paxton had run an actual campaign instead of hiding under a rock. Too bad for him that being out in public and actually talking about things was a risk he couldn’t bear. The Trib, which covered a lot of the same ground as the Chron but with more of a focus on Houston’s campaign and Paxton’s non-campaign, and Texas Politics have more.

Posted in: Election 2014.

TPJ files suit against Abbott over Hecht ethics case

Here we go again.

An Austin legal watchdog group filed suit Wednesday to force action on a $29,000 ethics fine, levied against Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht in 2008, that has languished on appeal for 5½ years.

The motion from Texans for Public Justice seeks to remove Attorney General Greg Abbott from the case, saying Abbott has violated his legal duties by failing to pursue the case on behalf of the Texas Ethics Commission, which levied the fine.

“(Abbott) has helped his friend, former colleague and political ally by allowing the case to be inactive and dormant,” the motion said.

[...]

In Wednesday’s motion to intervene in Hecht’s appeal, Texans for Public Justice asked the court to disqualify Abbott, Republican candidate for governor, as the lawyer representing the ethics commission.

“By permitting, aiding and abetting, and acquiescing in almost six years of delay, Attorney General Abbott has violated his fundamental constitutional and statutory duties to ‘defend the laws’ of Texas and ‘represent the state in litigation’ … and he has failed to collect the fine that should have been collected years ago for the benefit of Texas taxpayers,” the motion said.

See here for a bit of background. The TPJ press release fills in the details.

Hecht’s troubles date to the short-lived 2005 nomination of his ex-flame Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hecht’s promotion of Miers to conservative groups and the media drew a Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct rebuke for violating state prohibitions on political activism by jurists. Arguing that the First Amendment trumps judicial canons, Hecht attorney Chip Babcock overturned the admonishment in 2006.

Hecht’s victory spawned new ethical issues. The Texas Ethics Commission ruled that Babcock’s discounted legal fees amounted to an in-kind contribution to Hecht worth $100,000. Hecht failed to report this contribution, which exceeded judicial campaign limits. Following a rare formal public hearing, commissioners ordered Hecht to pay a $29,000 fine on December 11, 2008. Justice Hecht appealed to a Travis County court on January 27, 2009 and the Attorney General quickly filed a response on behalf of the Ethics Commission. Since those filings in early 2009, the case has languished. Setting a record for the longest appeal of a state ethics fine, the case runs the risk of being dismissed for lack of prosecution.

“Abbott has a duty to prosecute this cold case and collect from Justice Hecht,” said TPJ Director Craig McDonald. “Instead, he has sat on his hands for six years to protect a friend and political crony. Texas law recognizes no crony exception. It’s time for Abbott to act—or to find someone who will.”

TPJ’s motion asks the district court to remove Abbott from the case if necessary and to impose appropriate sanctions for “his extraordinary and egregious pattern of inaction and neglect in apparent deference and favoritism toward his friend and former colleague.”

TPJ’s filing argues that Abbott’s inaction violates provisions of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, Texas Lawyers Creed and statutory and constitutional obligations of the Attorney General to promote the timely administration of justice. Abbott’s office, which has absolute discretion to aggressively pursue such matters, claimed in 2014 that plaintiff Hecht alone is responsible for advancing the case. Were this true, any defendant could beat any Ethics Commission rap simply by filing an appeal and then ignoring it.

I noted the five-year anniversary of the case last December. I get that TPJ could have timed the filing of their complaint differently, but come on. Abbott has time to file a zillion lawsuits against the federal government while simultaneously defending losers like the same sex marriage ruling, the school finance ruling, and the voter ID ruling, but he can’t assign a junior attorney or two to push some paper on this? His priorities as AG have always been the interests of the Republican Party first, and everything else second. There’s really no excuse for this. You can see the complaint TPJ filed here, the Ethics Commission order against Hecht from 2008 here, and their timeline of events here.

Posted in: Legal matters.

#GiveToWendy

wendy-button-final-fb-cover

A year ago at about this time, a group of progressive blogs joined forces to raise money for the Wendy Davis campaign, which at that point was only a month old and all of the usual “early money” maxims applied. The only “early” now is early voting, which begins in three days, but late money still helps, too. I’m joining in this push to ask you today to make a contribution to the Davis campaign to help her make that final push to get everyone possible out to the polls.

I know, everyone’s asking for money. Believe me, I get all those desperate begging emails, too. If you want to skip this post and move on to the rest of today’s content, I don’t blame you. But if you’re still here, let me make my case, as briefly and hyperventilation-freely as I can.

Like so many people, I was inspired by Wendy Davis’ courageous actions on the Senate floor last summer, and outraged by the underhanded and small-minded tactics that were used to try to shut her up. I was thrilled when she announced her candidacy for Governor. And like many people, there have been times when I wished her campaign had made other choices. But I’ve never wavered in my belief that the state of Texas will be infinitely better off with Governor Wendy Davis that it would be with Governor Greg Abbott. If you’re reading this blog, I trust that you don’t need me to enumerate the reasons for that. But that’s what it comes down to. And that means we all want to be in a position to wake up on November 5 and say to ourselves, “I did what I could”.

If you’re already doing other things – calling, knocking on doors, talking to family and friends, whatever – then bless you. You’re making a difference. If you’ve already given to your limit, then thank you. It really means something. If you’ve got some capacity left, we still need you. Just click the link or the picture up top, and you’re good to go.

I don’t have a cutesy finish, and I won’t end this with a PS. Please give if you can – any amount will help – and thank you if you do. If you’re inspired to make further contributions to the other fine candidates on the ballot with Wendy – Leticia Van de Putte, Sam Houston, Mike Collier, John Cook, Steve Brown – or if you’d just rather give to one or more of them instead, that’s awesome, too. Every little bit helps, and everyone’s help is needed. Thank you very much.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Judicial Q&A: Randy Roll

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Randy Roll

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am former District Judge Randy Roll.

I am the Democratic candidate for the 180th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

4 types of felonies. 1st degree felony punishable from 5 to 99 yrs in TDC, 2nd degree felony punishable from 2 to 20 years in TDC, 3rd degree felony punishable from 2 to 10 years in TDC & State Jail felony punishable from 6 months to 24 months in the State Jail Facility.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to give everyone who comes before this bench an equal chance. Undocumented aliens who have permanent contacts with this county and are deserving of probation should not be denied that opportunity. I will try to stop the cronyism between judges and appointed defense attorneys.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

As a former judge, I inherited the worst and highest docket of the 22 different courts. 4 years later I left that court with the 4th best docket. I reduced the wait for a trial from years to 3 months. As an attorney and judge I have handled more than 10,000 felony cases and 100 jury trials. I speak Spanish, Russian, French and German. In 4 years on the bench, I took only 8 days vacation. I was the 1st judge to require experience & competence for attorneys appointed in DNA cases for indigent defendants, which I proposed to the other 21 judges and they adopted my proposal. No trial in my court (179th) was ever reversed by the Appellate Courts.

5. Why is this race important?

Presently, 19 of the 22 felony judges are Republican. We need more diversity on the bench.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have a track record of innovation, hard work and competence. I will work diligently and wisely and I ask for your support.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Subpoenaing sermons

Not sure about this.

PetitionsInvalid

Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists who have sued the city.

Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to force a repeal referendum when they get their day in court in January, claiming City Attorney David Feldman wrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

City attorneys issued subpoenas last month as part of the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

The subpoenas were issued to pastors and religious leaders who have been vocal in opposing the ordinance: Dave Welch, Hernan Castano, Magda Hermida, Khanh Huynh and Steve Riggle. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization known for its role in defending same-sex marriage bans, filed a motion Monday on behalf of the pastors seeking to quash the subpoenas, and in a press announcement called it a “witch hunt.”

The city’s lawyers will face a high bar for proving the information in the sermons is essential to their case, said Charles Rhodes, a South Texas College of Law professor. The pastors are not named parties in the suit, and the “Church Autonomy Doctrine” offers fairly broad protections for internal church deliberations, he said.

Calling it an “unusual but not unprecedented” subpoena request, Rhodes said the city would stand a better chance of getting the sermons if it were a criminal case in which the message or directive in the sermons prompted a specific criminal action.

Still, he said, the city likely will get a boost because many of the sermons are broadcast or recorded and are intended to be shared with the public.

“This is unusual to see it come up in a pure political controversy,” Rhodes said. “The city is going to have to prove there is something very particular in the sermons that does not come up anywhere else.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have zero sympathy for the pastoral haters, whose affinity for lying about the HERO ought to make your average sinner blush. I look forward to them getting crushed in court, or if necessary at the ballot box. I think anything that has been recorded in some form for the purpose of being distributed is fair game here. I guess it’s not clear to me what the city is hoping to find by subpoenaing this stuff. Emails, other written correspondence, phone records, transcripts – these things I understand. I don’t quite see what the city’s goal is.

The other concern is that the HERO haters will do an effective job at portraying themselves as victims. It is the one thing they are really good at, after all. It looks like they succeeded, unfortunately.

Amid outrage from religious groups, Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman on Wednesday appeared to back off a subpoena request for the sermons of certain ministers opposed to the city’s equal rights ordinance, with Parker calling it overly broad.

[...]

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” she said. “But I also think there was some misinterpretation on the other side.”

The subpoenas drew national attention this week, prompting Christian conservative groups to condemn the request as governmental overreach. U.S. Sen Ted Cruz issued a statement Wednesday, saying Parker “should be ashamed.”

“Let me just say that one word in a very long legal document which I know nothing about and would never have read and I’m vilified coast to coast,” Parker said. “It’s a normal day at the office for me.”

The intent, Feldman said, was simply to get all communications between pastors about the signature gathering instructions, a key part of a lawsuit opponents have brought against the city. Critics filed suit after Feldman announced they had failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a repeal referendum, claiming the city attorney illegally inserted himself in the signature verification process.

Feldman said the city would clarify what it is looking for in its response to the pastors’ motion.

Glad to hear that, but I think we know what happens from here. I mean, once the website Snopes has to get involved, truth and nuance lose all meaning. Let’s just hope this is a short-term story. If the motion to quash succeeds, or if the city is allowed to go on this document hunt and comes up empty, all bets will be off on that. Campos and Texpatriate have more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Comptroller candidates will debate

It’s a trend!

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Candidates in the race for state comptroller have agreed to one televised debate, though watching the debate requires a Time Warner Cable subscription fo North Texas viewers.

Mike Collier, a Democrat from Houston, and Sen. Glenn Hegar, a Katy Republican, will face off 7 p.m., Oct. 29 in Austin. The 30-minute debate is sponsored by Time Warner Cable News. It will be broadcast to the Austin, San Antonio and Hill Country media markets.

The debate will be viewable statewide through the TWC’s On Demand service, as well as online here: http://sanantonio.twcnews.com/content/politics/.

As chief financial officer, the comptroller’s office collects all taxes owed to the state and estimates the state’s tax revenue for the biennium, among other duties. Lawmakers use the revenue estimate to set the two-year budget.

“Senator Hegar looks forward to discussing the important issues facing our state,” said David White, a spokesman for the campaign.

“Texans deserve to hear from the person who will be accountable for their tax dollars. I’m honored to receive this opportunity to show Texans how I will be their financial watchdog in the Comptroller’s office, not just another career politician,” Collier said.

If you can get past the fact that it happens with two days left in early voting and it’s easily available to only a fraction of the state, this is a good thing. The fact that there’s a debate at all, and that the Dems have a candidate that’s worth having in a debate, makes it worthwhile. Yes, it would be better to have something more widely visible, but given that the baseline for comparison is “nothing”, it’s an improvement. The Trib has more.

By the way, Collier continues to dominate the newspaper endorsements, picking up nods from the Express News and Star-Telegram this week. I thought Collier would do well in the editorial board interviews, but as a first-time candidate going against an experienced legislator who wasn’t weighed down by sixteen tons of ethical baggage, it was hardly a slam dunk that he’d get a string of endorsements. That he’s one paper away from a Sam Houston-style clean sweep says a lot about his qualities as a candidate and as a person. He’s also been sharp in how he has presented himself, as his latest campaign ad attests. I’m hard pressed to think of any way in which Collier could have run a better campaign. I hope the actual viewership of that debate far exceeds my meager expectations.

On a related note, there’s also this.

The only debate scheduled between Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his Democratic opponent, David Alameel, could end up only being broadcast in Spanish.

Cornyn and Alameel are scheduled to participate in a one-hour debate in Dallas hosted by Univision on Oct. 24. The debate will be conducted in English. Univision will broadcast the debate the next day with the candidates’ remarks dubbed in Spanish at 10 p.m. in eight markets around the state, according to Felicitas Cadena, community affairs manager for Univision Communications.

“The debate will not air in English in any market,” Cadena said in an email.

[...]

Cadena said the channel is open to talking with other media outlets about broadcasting the debate in English on television or online.

“We’re just looking at technical possibilities,” Cadena said. “We’d be more than glad to have that discussion.”

Putting the video online somewhere, pre-dubbed and post-dubbed, should not be too much to ask. I guess we’ll see.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance celebrates the advance of marriage equality and looks forward to the day when it comes to our state as we bring you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Voter ID plaintiffs turn to SCOTUS

Last train, y’all.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas plaintiffs on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the state’s voter photo ID law in November’s election.

“The facts of this case, including record evidence, show that significantly more voter confusion will result from granting the stay (and thus enforcing Texas’s Senate Bill 14) than would result from reinstating the injunction (and thus going forward under the prior law),” they wrote. “Therefore, a proper application of this Court’s precedents calls for vacating the stay.”

[...]

In their brief to the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs in the case — including the League of United Latin American Citizens — argue that it would be more disruptive to conduct the election with the ID law in place than to do without it, and would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Texas voters. They argue that the district court’s finding that the law discriminates against minorities outweighs the argument that the election is too close for a change.

See here for the background, and see here for a copy of the appeals brief. I certainly think one can make a cogent case that not implementing voter ID would be at most minimally disruptive, and would have the bonus of not putting a law that has been ruled unconstitutional by two federal courts and discriminatory by one into effect. SCOTUS has been a bit hard to read lately, so who knows what they’ll do. The one thing I am sure of is that with early voting set to start in 11 days, they’ll rule quickly, possibly today. Stay tuned.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Judicial Q&A: Scot Dollinger

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Scot Dollinger

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Scot Dollinger. I am running for judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2. (Civil Court No. 2.) (There are four civil county courts at law in Harris County numbered 1, 2, 3 & 4.)

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil Court No. 2 hears the following kinds of cases:

- 60% debt collection/breach of contract

- 17% injuries

- 15% evictions

- 4% occupational licenses

- 3% eminent domain (The government is taking your private property.)

- 1% tax and tow.

Except for eviction and eminent domain cases, this court has a jurisdictional limit of $200,000 which means if the amount in dispute is over $200,000 then the court cannot hear the case. This court will have anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 cases filed every year.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for Civil Court No. 2 because I do not think the court is being properly run. To be properly run, the civil county courts at law need judges like me with extensive trial and administrative experience. I want to use my 25 plus years of administrative and trial experience to improve Civil Court No. 2 so that the court is properly run for the benefit of all: equality of law for all. Every person in Harris County regardless of income, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation deserves to have fair access to a fair forum – because justice matters to everyone.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am qualified to be judge of this court because my 25 plus years of administrative and trial experience give me the unique skills necessary to properly run this court. Everybody needs to know when they come to court they will be treated fairly by an experienced knowledgeable judge.

Administrative Experience. I have worked for an insurance company where I managed its in-house state-wide litigation department. There I setup computer databases to manage large caseloads and implemented systems for efficiently processing the Texas-wide docket. I also have run my own law office as a solo practitioner for over 12 years which required me to efficiently manage large caseloads and create and implement computerized management programs.

Trial and Appellate Experience. I have tried over 40 trials and worked on over 10 appeals. I have filed briefs and argued before the First and Fourteenth Court of Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. I have filed petitions for review with the Supreme Court of Texas and a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States. I have handled administrative hearings in the workers’ compensation system and matters in our justice of the peace courts. Thus, I have actually worked in virtually every kind of court or tribunal a lawyer can do work in Texas. In doing this work, I have done both plaintiff and defense work and clerked for a judge. I also was divorced years ago. So, I understand the cases from every perspective.

Education. I graduated from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois with a B.S. in Speech in 1984 and Emory University School of Law, Atlanta, Georgia with a Juris Doctor in 1987.

Licenses. I am licensed to practice law in all Texas state courts, all Texas federal courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States.

Awards and Honors. Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Rating of AV® PreeminentTM, Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Law – Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Law Clerk to the Honorable Howell Cobb, U.S. District Judge, Eastern District of Texas, Order of Barristers, Moot Court Society – intra and inter-state teams, Gavel of Honor, Distinguished Service in Moot Court Society, writing instructor, graduated in top 1/3 of law school class. Chief of the Fox Tribe, YMCA Indian Princess Program.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because when a court is not properly run it puts at risk the value of equal justice for all, one of our most sacred values as a community.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

We need an unbiased judge with my administrative and trial background. I have been representing individuals of all incomes, races, genders, religions and sexual orientations in civil matters my entire 25 plus year career. In the last ten years, I have donated over 1,000 hours in free legal services to individuals. My opponent has not had this diverse experience. Instead, she has worked for Harris County or the City of Houston (institutions) her entire legal career giving her a certain level of bias in favor of establishment institutions. This bias is manifested in Judge Chang’s improper practice of allowing legal entities to represent themselves in county court without a lawyer and not following the law when it comes to fairly setting appeal bonds in eviction cases. For example, in Cause No. 1050447 Williams Apartments v. Tiffany Franklin the judge improperly allowed the Plaintiff (a legal entity) to be represented without an attorney which is improper. This practice is ongoing in other cases. By so acting, the court is demonstrating a landlord bias against tenants. No judge should be biased. If the court is biased here, one wonders in what other ways the court is biased.

Civil Court No. 2 handles eminent domain cases involving Harris County and the City of Houston. I do not think this court should have a judge that used to work for Harris County or the City of Houston and was appointed by the Harris County Commissioners’ Court.

Currently, the four civil courts at law work independently of each other in the sense of having different procedures in each court. If elected, I would work with all the other judges to strive to have uniform procedures in all four courts to bring uniformity of procedure to all four courts and to increase predictability of outcomes.

Currently, the civil courts at law are not under the JIMS computer system that manages access to county documents. All the district courts are under JIMS. The civil county courts at law and probate courts have their own computer system for viewing documents. This method is duplication of effort. It should be noted that the criminal county courts at law are under the JIMS system. So, there is no reason not to move the rest of the county courts at law over to JIMS. As well, the civil county court database is not being properly used to establish a set of metrics to study the caseload of these courts. One sets metrics or gathers data in the database to measure levels of productivity. The current computer system either needs to be properly used at the encouragement of the judges or the civil county courts at law need to fall under the JIMS system and authority of the District Clerk in terms of case management. There is no reason for the civil county courts at law to be separately managed unless they are being managed in a much better way which they are not. The judges play a role in helping to cast the vision for management of these courts. Currently, the judges’ vision is lacking in my view.

Finally, the sitting judge tells lawyers via her procedures that she generally gives them 15 to 20 minutes to conduct voir dire (pick a jury). http://www.ccl.hctx.net/civil/2/procedures.htm#motions. Any experienced trial lawyer will tell you that 15 to 20 minutes is not enough time to properly pick a jury to determine if they are biased or prejudiced against the case. It is illegal for lawyers to strike jurors based on race. Lawyers need the time to properly test for this problem under the Batson case law. An experienced trial lawyer like me is more sensitive to Batson violations (illegally striking jurors based on race) and the need to properly question a panel and spend the time necessary to properly pick a jury.

Posted in: Election 2014.

The courts giveth, and the courts taketh away

As expected, the Fifth Circuit lifts the stay on the district court’s voter ID ruling, paving the way (for now) for it to be enforced in November.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas should require photo voter identification in this year’s general election, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday, overturning an earlier ruling by a federal district judge in Texas.

“This is not a run-of-the-mill case; instead, it is a voting case decided on the eve of the election,” the appeals court judges wrote. “The judgment below substantially disturbs the election process of the State of Texas just nine days before early voting begins. Thus, the value of preserving the status quo here is much higher than in most other contexts.”

The plaintiffs — including the Campaign Legal Center and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund — plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Tuesday’s ruling.

[...]

“On Saturday, October 11 — just nine days before early voting begins and just 24 days before Election Day — the district court entered a final order striking down Texas’s voter identification laws,” the appeals court said in its order. “By this order, the district court enjoined the implementation of Texas Senate Bill 14 of the 2011 Regular Session, which requires that voters present certain photographic identification at the polls. The district court also ordered that the State of Texas instead implement the laws that were in force before SB 14’s enactment in May of 2011. Based primarily on the extremely fast-approaching election date, we STAY the district court’s judgment pending appeal.”

[...]

One of the three judges who ordered the stay — Gregg Costa — did so only because of recent decisions that favor order in elections over the laws in question.

“The district court issued a thorough order finding that the Texas voter ID law is discriminatory,” he wrote. “We should be extremely reluctant to have an election take place under a law that a district court has found, and that our court may find, is discriminatory… I agree with Judge [Edith Brown] Clement that the only constant principle that can be discerned from the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in this area is that its concern about confusion resulting from court changes to election laws close in time to the election should carry the day in the stay analysis.”

The plaintiffs will go to the U.S. Supreme Court to attempt to block the use of the state’s voter ID law.

A copy of the ruling is here. It’s important to note that this isn’t a ruling on the merits of the district court decision. It’s merely a continuation of the current status quo, which is what the Supreme Court has held to be the main standard in near-election rulings. One can certainly argue that going back to the previous status quo, which is what the vast majority of voters in this election are accustomed to, would be less disruptive, and I’m sure the plaintiffs will make that case to the Supreme Court. Rick Hasen, who correctly predicted the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, thinks an appeal to SCOTUS on those grounds might have a chance. Be prepared to bring your ID, but don’t give up hope quite yet. Newsdesk, SCOTUSBlog, PDiddie, BOR, the Brennan Center, and the Texas Election Law Blog have more.

Meanwhile, as totally not expected, SCOTUS put HB2 back on ice pending appeals, thus reversing the Fifth Circuit’s atrocious ruling from earlier this month.

A provision of the Texas abortion law that closed all but eight abortion facilities in the state almost two weeks ago was temporarily put on hold Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision comes a week after attorneys representing a coalition of abortion providers in the state asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a U.S. district court ruling that had blocked a key provision that requires abortion facilities to meet the same hospital-like standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Those include minimum sizes for rooms and doorways and having pipelines for anesthesia.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had overturned that ruling and allowed the provision to go into effect as the appeals process continues, shutting down most of the state’s facilities. The 5th Circuit is still weighing the constitutionality of the law.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court also overturned the provision of the abortion law, which is known as House Bill 2, that requires doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles for two facilities: Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen and Reproductive Services in El Paso.

Representatives for the abortion providers were quick to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision as they await the appeals court’s ruling on the law.

“The U.S. Supreme Court gave Texas women a tremendous victory today,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the abortion providers in the case. “Tomorrow, thirteen clinics across the state will be allowed to reopen and provide women with safe and legal abortion care in their own communities.

Here’s that ruling. Gotta admit, I did not expect this outcome. Again, this is not a decision on the merits of the appeal, so caution is merited. The Fifth Circuit still gets to decide that, and we all know how badly they suck. But as SCOTUSBlog suggests, perhaps the Fifth Circuit misread the Supreme Court’s tea leaves on this. Keep hope alive. Hair Balls, Newsdesk, the Current, Texpatriate, Wonkblog, and Kos have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Perry has a court date

Happy Halloween, Rick.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Mmm…pumpkin spice corndogs

Visiting Judge Bert Richardson of San Antonio on Monday set the appearance for Oct. 31. Richardson also gave special prosecutor Michael McCrum until Nov. 7 to respond to two motions to quash the case.

Richardson had excused Perry from appearing in court Monday. The governor is traveling overseas this week, leading an economic development delegation to England, Germany, Poland and Ukraine.

Anthony Buzbee, one of Perry’s lawyers, confirmed the governor will be present for the next court date, when Richardson will address two issues: whether McCrum was sworn in properly and whether he should be ordered to produce a transcript of grand jury testimony. The governor’s lawyers have brought up both matters as they aggressively seek to convince Richardson to throw out the case.

Speaking to reporters after a hearing Monday, McCrum said he has “every confidence that we’re going to move forward” once the court deals with the procedural issues.

Asked whether he thought Perry’s lawyers were throwing the “legal kitchen sink” at him, McCrum said, “There’s been a couple of dishes thrown into the sink, and so we’re having to go through them one by one, but I’m confident everything’s going to proceed in a good fashion.

See here and here for the background. The Trib addresses those motions a bit more.

During Monday’s hearing, Richardson — who had originally appointed McCrum as special prosecutor — insisted that McCrum was sworn in properly. He added that any missing paperwork regarding McCrum’s oath of office would be reconciled.

“Clearly some of the documents were available, but they were in the wrong file,” Richardson said.

After the hearing, Buzbee said he believed the issue was very much alive.

“I’ve seen some paperwork. I’m not sure it resolves the issue, but we’ll take it up on the 31st,” Buzbee said, adding that if McCrum were not properly sworn in, the entire indictment against the governor should be dismissed.

McCrum told reporters he had no doubt the he was properly sworn in.

“Everything was done appropriately,” McCrum said. “I have every confidence that we’re going to move forward.”

McCrum said the defense request regarding the grand jury testimony is the first such request he’s seen in his career. “It’s quite unusual,” he said.

Without a transcript of the witness testimony, “this court will be unable to ascertain whether a pervasive violation” of Perry’s right to carry out legislative activity with immunity from prosecution, as protected by the Texas and U.S. Constitutions, has occurred, the governor’s lawyers wrote in the filing.

The Perry legal team has also filed a request to dismiss the indictment because Perry was acting in his official capacity as governor. That motion will be the subject of a Nov. 7 hearing.

No word as to whether Perry will have to be in court for that hearing. By that time, Judge Richardson will know if he’s headed to the Court of Criminal Appeals or not. Assuming he doesn’t wind up tossing the indictments, he could be handing off quite the hot potato to some other judge after that. Juanita has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Making open data better

Some positive news.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston leaders in the last year or so have cheered the promise of “civic hacking,” pushing to make the mountains of data the city collects accessible to tech enthusiasts capable of building programs to help citizens better understand and interact with their government.

Two “hackathons” and a few dozen “app” ideas later, however, the city still requires formal public information requests to release many popular records and has no set processes to decide which data can be freely released or how to keep it up-to-date.

Officials and local programmers alike hope a new “Open Data Policy,” enacted as an administrative procedure by Mayor Annise Parker late last month, will change that. The policy mandates citywide cooperation with a task force that will decide what to release and how to keep it up-to-date. The procedures also require all future city technology contracts to allow for the free release of records in a useful format, such as a spreadsheet rather than a PDF.

“Right now we have a coalition of the willing,” said city Finance Director Kelly Dowe. “We’re trying to create broad participation. It’s encouraging now that every department in the city had representation on the creation of this. What you see here is a level of commitment, by signing off on this, to work with the administration and put this data forward.”

It would be inexact, perhaps, to highlight this “coalition of the willing” or reveal the departments being territorial with their records; some collect more information than others, and some have more antiquated records systems than others.

Jeff Reichman, a principal at consulting firm January Advisors, said the quality and relevance of the datasets are what matter, not the volume. Still, gaps are noticeable: The city’s existing Open Data Portal, launched for the hackathons, shows the planning department boasts 48 datasets and the regulatory department 21, while the municipal courts and the city’s airport system each has posted one. The portal holds information on everything from code enforcement violations and taxis to alcohol permits and radioactive waste sites.

The new policy calls for an advisory board to be formed within 30 days and to have open data standards drafted within 90 days, guiding all city departments in complying with the directive. The task force, Dowe said, will start by identifying the information citizens are most interested in and how best to unleash it.

I’ve written about Hackathons before. There’s a lot of value in making city data available to app developers in a format they can use. For one example of the possibilities, consider this from San Antonio.

The City has paired up with a mobile application company to help drivers find and pay for downtown parking spots in San Antonio. On Oct. 23, Pango will release an app for San Antonio that enables drivers to find available parking before they reach their destination. Pango is considering the introduction a mobile payment option in the future.*

The city is sharing the data it collects from parking meters for use on the app, which updates every five minutes. That means every spot with a parking meter will be mapped out as available or not on the phone, potentially eliminating the sometimes fruitless, frenzied scramble to find a parking spot, clogging up streets.

Would you like to have something like that in Houston? With this Open Data policy, it could happen.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Judicial Q&A: Josefina Rendon

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Josefina Rendon

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Judge Josefina Rendon. I’m running for Harris County’s probate Court #2. I’m a transplanted Texas having come to Houston as a teenager many years ago. I’ve been a lawyer & judge for over 30 yrs and a mediator, peacemaker & student-teacher of conflict resolution for over 20 yrs.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

A probate Court hears cases involving death with or without a will and inheritance issues. Probate Courts also hear case involving guardianships for adults who have become incapacitated.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I gained interest in probate matters when I was 13 years old and my father asked me to “help” him with his will. He said he wanted me to “add up” the numbers. He also explained why he had made the choices he made in his will. I didn’t know at the time that he was dying. This was his indirect way of helping me understand his forthcoming passing. He died within the year. Since then I developed an empathy for those facing death & its consequences. I have also developed an empathy for those who are incapacitated and need good guardians to take care of them.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a judge for many years. I was a State Civil District Judge for 4 years and a City of Houston Municipal Court Judge for 27 of the last 31 years. As an experienced trial judge I’ve had to make reasoned decisions that have affected people’s lives and livelihood. No less important, many years ago I discovered that, when encouraged and guided, the parties themselves often have the wisdom to resolve their own disputes without the judge imposing his or her decision. I also discovered that people tend to honor their agreements more often than they obey judicial orders. Because of that, for over 20 years I have also been a mediator, helping people resolve cases on their own rather than imposing, or having another judge impose, a decision.

5. Why is this race important?

Because justice matters – or should matter – to all of us in life or death. All of our courts need judges who are not only aware of the law but who has a sense of balance, justice and compassion in dealing with parties from all walks of life.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have been not only a judge but a practicing lawyer and, even more important, a mediator and peacemaker. As a mediator – derived from the word “middle” – I have learned to truly be in the middle and not take sides while trying to get the parties to reach peace and resolution between them. As a judge I carefully and respectfully listen to all points of view and rule according to, not only the law, but according to what is just, fair and equitable. I also have worked hard all my life, with a sense of purpose, always trying to excel expectations and do the best job possible.

Posted in: Election 2014.

HISD Board approves one cent tax rate increase

Still a low tax rate, just slightly higher now.

As architects prepare designs for dozens of new campuses, the Houston school board on Thursday approved a 1-cent tax rate increase to help pay down debt from the largest school district construction bond in Texas history.

The board voted 7-1 to raise the tax rate, the second increase in two years tied to the district’s $1.9 billion bond issue approved by voters two years ago. The 3-cent rate hike last year went toward day-to-day operational expenses as well as building debt.

The owners of an average-priced home whose property values rose significantly could see their bills grow by $250 over last year, while the increase will be closer to $15 for those with stagnant values.

Leaders of the Houston Independent School District had told voters in 2012 to expect a rate increase of 4.85 cents, phased in over several years, to fund the construction debt. HISD’s chief financial officer, Ken Huewitt, now says the full rate hike may not be necessary thanks to fast-rising property values, but district officials will have to review the data annually.

“Obviously, we’re ahead of the game right now,” Huewitt said. “I have to think we’ll stay ahead of the game.”

HISD’s new tax rate for 2014 is $1.1967 per $100 of taxable value, keeping the rate the lowest of all school districts in Harris County.

No surprise here, this has been on the table since the 2012 bond referendum was announced. Far as I’m concerned, as long as they do a better job of managing and completing those construction projects than they did with the 2007 referendum, it’s all good. K-12 Zone and Hair Balls have more.

Posted in: School days.

Appeals court rules against KSP

From last week, from the inbox via the Texas Democratic Party:

(Yesterday), the Texas Democratic Party prevailed in King Street Patriots v. Texas Democratic Party, when the Texas Court of Appeals for the Third District confirmed a lower court decision to uphold provisions of Texas campaign finance law. [Campaign Legal Center, 10/8/2014]

The Texas Democratic Party’s suit alleged that the King Street Patriots had made in-kind contributions to the Republican Party of Texas. These donations would have been a violation of the restrictions on corporate political contributions. They also failed to register as a “political committee” and comply with Texas Disclosure Law. In response, the King Street Patriots filed a counterclaim that challenged the constitutionality of parts of Texas’ campaign finance laws. [Houston Chronicle, 3/28/2012]

PDiddie was on this a couple of days ago. I was waiting to see if any mainstream news outlets would pick up on it, but so far it’s just the Quorum Report. The Chron story from 2012 in the TDP press release has a decent summary of the suit, and you can find a bit more on what led to it here and in Hair Balls. I’m sure this will go to the state Supreme Court, and who knows, maybe to the federal courts if they lose there, but for now, this is a nice little bit of good news, almost as good on a smaller scale as the voter ID ruling.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Abbott’s appellate response brief is the same old junk

Pathetic.

RedEquality

Attorney General Greg Abbott says Texas’ same-sex marriage ban should remain in place because legalizing it would do little or nothing to encourage heterosexual couples to get married and have children.

Writing in a brief filed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, Abbott said the state was not obligated to prove why gay marriage might be detrimental to the economic or social well-being of Texans. It was only required to show how opposite-sex marriage would be more beneficial for its citizens.

“The State is not required to show that recognizing same-sex marriage will undermine heterosexual marriage,” the brief read. “It is enough if one could rationally speculate that opposite-sex marriages will advance some state interest to a greater extent than same-sex marriages will.”

The new filing largely reiterated the same “responsible procreation” argument Abbott made in July, when the state first appealed a February district court’s ruling overturning the Texas gay marriage ban. In it, Abbott argued marriage among heterosexual partners is more beneficial to society because it encourages married couples to have children and provides an example for other couples to do the same.

See here, here, and here for the background. Texas Politics has a copy of Abbott’s brief here if you want a laugh. I guess when you really, truly have nothing to say, you say the same things you’ve already said and hope they sound better on repeat. As one of the commenters on the Chron story says, I’d love to see Abbott make these arguments to Judge Richard Posner. I know the Fifth Circuit sucks, but can they possibly be so intellectually and morally bankrupt to find merit in this idiocy? The case is on track to be hear in November or December, byt the same panel that will hear the Louisiana case appeal. Hopefully we’ll know something by the end of the year.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Interview with John Cook

John Cook

John Cook

The office of Land Commissioner is often overlooked, but it has a role to play in a whole lot of aspects of state government. From state parks to beaches to mineral rights, from the Alamo to veterans issues to the Permanent School Fund, there’s a whole lot the Land Commissioner does. Outgoing Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson was and is generally well regarded for his stewardship of the office. Aiming to succeed him is former El Paso Mayor John Cook. Cook, like Patterson a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, had a long career as a Manager of Network Operations with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company followed by time as a school teacher before being elected to El Paso’s City Council. As Mayor of El Paso, he helped pass a domestic partner benefits law, and survived a subsequent recall effort over it. He’s also an accomplished musician, officially making him the most well-rounded candidate on the ballot this year. Here’s what we talked about:

Barring anything unforeseen, this is my last candidate interview (though not my last interview; there will be one more next Monday) for the 2014 cycle. As noted before, the judicial Q&As will continue through the end of the week and possibly beyond, depending on whether I get more responses or not.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Chartering

There will be more than just the Mayor’s race going on in 2015.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston is guaranteed a frantic 2015 political season with an open mayor’s race on the ballot, but it could get busier still with growing talk of placing the city charter before voters for possible changes to term limits, the city revenue cap and other reforms.

Whether any of the proposed amendments goes to a vote next May or alongside the mayoral contest next November, the state constitution requires a two-year gap between charter changes, so all reforms would need to be voted on at once.

The question, given a difference of opinion between term-limited Mayor Annise Parker and some City Council members, is what will make the ballot.

Parker has warned of widespread layoffs with next summer’s budget unless the decade-old, voter-imposed revenue cap is altered or scrapped, but she may prefer a November vote to avoid the measure being torpedoed by the hard-core right in a low-turnout May election. Even at that, she has not guaranteed a vote on the issue.

The mayor also has pledged to let voters consider a change in term limits – likely from three two-year terms to two four-year terms – but support evaporated on City Council when that idea last was discussed in 2012.

Some council members, meanwhile, are pushing for broader reforms, including a proposal to let six members team up to place items on the council agenda for a vote; only the mayor can do so today, though three council members can call a special meeting.

Councilman C.O. Bradford, who long has argued for charter reform, is pushing that idea, which he says will enable council to better address small, neighborhood issues.

All that is in addition to the possibility of a referendum to repeal the Equal Rights Ordinance, depending on how things go in court. All forty-seven Mayoral candidates (or is it fifty-eight, I’ve lost count) will need to deal with these issues whether they want to or not.

I know, I’m still not ready to start talking about 2015 yet, so let me keep this brief.

1. I support any and all efforts to repeal the stupid revenue cap. I will not vote for any Mayoral candidate that is not on board with repealing the revenue cap.

2. My preference for term limits is to abolish them. Given that that isn’t going to happen, I would greatly prefer extending them to allow more two-year terms – six seems like a reasonable number to me – over any proposal that includes changing the length of the term in office to four years. To me, the ability to quickly correct a mistake like Helena Brown outweighs any purported downside of making people begin campaigning for re-election so soon. If the real complaint here is that nobody likes having to raise money for their campaigns – a complaint with which I sympathize – then let me propose a system of public financing for campaigns, which not only would alleviate the dialing-for-dollars drudgery, it would also address the original justification for term limits. I call that a win-win.

3. I currently have no opinion about CM Bradford’s proposal. I will be interested to hear what the seventy-three Mayoral candidates have to say about it.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Voter ID plaintiffs ask for no stay

They’ve filed their response to the Fifth Circuit.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Attorneys challenging Texas’ voter ID law — which was struck down by a federal judge on Thursday — asked a federal appeals court on Sunday not to allow the state to enforce the law.

In a brief filed with the U.S. 5th Circuit of Appeals, lawyers for plaintiffs including the League of United Latin American Citizens argued that the law was unconstitutional. Attorney Chad Dunn wrote that the law should not take effect, in order to “allow the 2014 elections to go forward under the principles of true democracy.”

The brief came as a response to an emergency motion filed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is defending the law. Abbott, who is also the Republican gubernatorial candidate, asked the appellate court’s mostly conservative judges on Friday to stay the lower court’s ruling and keep the voter ID law in effect for the November election.

The Chron story, which suggests we could get a ruling as soon as today, is more detailed.

The U.S. Department of Justice argued that relaxing the state’s identification law will not make any voters ineligible to cast a ballot.

“Registered voters who show up at the polls with only a form of S.B. 14 photo ID can, consistent with prior practice, cast a regular ballot,” the government wrote in its filing.

But Abbott, who is favored to defeat Democrat Wendy Davis in next month’s gubernatorial election, said in the filing that the law’s reversal creates sudden uncertainty.

“The district court’s opinion injects doubt where for 15 months, and three statewide elections, there had been certainty: Texas voters have understood that they are required to show up the polls with photo IDs, and Texas poll workers have understood the requirement to check for them,” wrote the state.

The decision to let the voter ID law stand this November will be made by three judges on the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit, generally considered a conservative court. The losing party could then either appeal that ruling to the full circuit bench, to the Supreme Court, or choose to do both. Either way, the ruling would eventually likely trickle up to the Supreme Court, who would quickly decide whether voters must present this identification.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California in Irvine, predicted that the 5th Circuit would rule in favor of Texas and issue a stay. Hasen said the relevant legal precedent, set in Purcell v. Gonzalez, shows that the courts have frowned upon changing election law right before voting begins.

“There’s a pretty good chance the court’s going to reverse the judge’s order and say: Regardless of whether you’re right or wrong on the legality of the voter ID law, for purposes of this election it’s going to stay in place,” Hasen explained.

See here and here for the background. I realize this would likely not be considered relevant by the Fifth Circuit, but it should be noted that the DC federal court also strongly rejected the voter ID law, though they didn’t get into the question of discriminatory intent since the burden in that case was on the state to prove the law wasn’t retrogressive. To use a technical legal term, two different courts found that this law stinks. Seems to me that’s a pretty compelling argument for not allowing said law to go into effect while the appeals process plays out. We’ll see what persuades the Fifth Circuit.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Complaint against McCrum dropped

Good.

Mike McCrum

Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said Wednesday he has looked into recent allegations by a Houston attorney against the special prosecutor in the case against Gov. Rick Perry and will not investigate further.

Escamilla said he found no evidence prosecutor Michael McCrum violated state laws or county policies regarding theft, abuse of authority or honorariums in the hourly rate McCrum is receiving from Travis County for his work in the case.

Houston defense lawyer David Rushing, former chairman of Young Conservatives of Texas, had alleged McCrum was illegally receiving more than he should by billing the county $300 an hour — a rate McCrum recently voluntarily reduced to $250 per hour after hiring a second prosecutor. That reduction came prior to Rushing’s complaint.

McCrum’s fees are higher than what court-appointed defense lawyers generally earn, but county rules permit larger hourly rates in unusual cases.

In a letter to Rushing, Escamilla said McCrum’s rates were approved by a judge in the case.

See here for the background. This felt like a nothingburger, especially given Rushing’s history of hackery, but it’s good to have some official confirmation. I’m not saying this couldn’t have been a point of contention, but honestly, you’d think someone might have brought it up before now. Given all the paperwork Rick Perry’s lawyers have generated so far, surely they would have jumped on this if they’d thought it would go somewhere. The next status hearing, the one Perry doesn’t have to attend, is today, where Judge Richardson will get to deal with yet another motion by Perry’s defense team. Looks like we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming on this now. Houston Politics has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Weekend link dump for October 12

News flash: “Reality” TV is heavily scripted and directed. Film at 11.

A look at the extremely warped world of marriage counseling and advice columns of the pre-feminist era.

“The prohibition against clause-final prepositions is considered a superstition even by the language mavens, and it persists only among know-it-alls who have never opened a dictionary or style manual to check.”

It’s okay if support for transit exceeds its ridership. In fact, it’s necessary.

What do the bottom of our oceans look like?

Ebola is the new Africanized honeybee.

Restaurants that ban tipping in favor of paying their workers better is an idea whose time has come.

Feel the pro-life love, y’all.

The viral epidemic of foreign origin we should actually freak out about is measles.

Some towel tips that may help you do a little less laundry.

“That’s right: cutting spending in a slump might actually make debt problems worse.” Germany is the poster child for this insanity.

If you liked “Gone Girl” you’ll probably like this, too.

What the Nobel Prize for blue LEDs is all about.

“People often say that same-sex marriage now is like interracial marriage in the 60s. But in terms of public opinion, same-sex marriage now is like interracial marriage in the 90s, when it had already been legal nationwide for 30 years.”

“Our cultural bridge was built on a shared love of profanity“.

“Poor Toby: you get the feeling this isn’t the first time she got a finger wagged in her face because of something unforgiveable that somebody else did.”

“[Rep. Michael Burgess (R, TX-26)], who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act more than 30 times, called on the federal government on Monday to use a fund embedded in the law to help prevent a national outbreak of Ebola.”

RIP, Vic Braden, famous tennis coach.

RIP, Geoffrey Holder, actor, artist, Tony Award-winning director of The Wiz, and more.

“Structurally, the issue is the same for Amazon’s warehouse workers as it was for the coal miners. Amazon’s warehouse empire is even a plausible analogue for the coal mines of a bygone age.”

How they created the conjoined twins for American Horror Story: Freak Show.

Voter ID laws are very successful at achieving their main objectives.

Have you recently come in contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has Ebola? No? Then relax, you don’t have Ebola. Please don’t rush to the emergency room unless you have some other reason for it.

Newt Scamander only meant to stay in New York for a few hours.”

RIP, District Judge Harley Clark, popularizer of the “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signal and the first judge to declare Texas’ school finance system to be unconstitutional. Either one would have made for quite the accomplished life on its own.

RIP, Jan Hooks, comedian and “SNL” alumna.

Ain’t no brawl like a Palin Brawl, ’cause a Palin Brawl don’t quit.

Doing anti-harassment policy right.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

More on the voter ID ruling

As always with big court cases, the first question is who benefits politically from the decision?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

With a federal judge having declared Texas’ voter ID unconstitutional, Democrats and political experts on Friday predicted the surprise decision potentially could help Wendy Davis in the upcoming Nov. 4 general election.

Republicans blasted the decision but said they think it could help turn out even more GOP voters to help them win next month.

It could little matter: Republican State Attorney General Greg Abbott signaled he would ask an appeals court to keep the Voter ID law in effect for the election.

“The fact is, that the Republicans have made it harder for many people to vote … and this could motivate them to turn out,” said Joaquin Guerra, political director of the Texas Organizing Project that is helping encourage turnout for Democrats.

Even if it does, he and others said, the number of voters without ID who could turn out might be just a few thousand – a fraction of the estimate of just over 600,000 that critics had argued were affected by the Texas law. Advocates and political observers said that is because a large percentage of those people do not vote.

“It’s probably like attendance at an Astros game, pretty small, a few thousand,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor who follows voter turnout and the voter ID fight.

“The argument that this might help Republicans somehow doesn’t really hold water,” Jones said. “First, it means more Texans who don’t have ID will be able to vote – and those people are likely to vote Democratic, if they turn out. Second, this decision provides support for the Democrats’ argument that this law unfairly targeted Hispanics and African-Americans. It certainly doesn’t help Abbott with Hispanic voters.”

No question that this can and will fire people up on both sides, but the effect on the people that were always going to vote isn’t important. What matters is if this helps motivate the marginal voters to get to the polls. To the extent that Democrats have more marginal voters to reach out to, it’s good for them. To the extent that Republicans don’t need many of their marginal voters to participate to put things out of reach, it’s good for them. With everyone now talking about Davis’ latest TV ad, the one in which she accuses Greg Abbott of hypocrisy on matters of access to the courthouse and enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s hard to say how much people will even be thinking about the voter ID ruling. There’s so much going on right now, who knows what might have an effect, and who could tell if it did?

Of course, what Judge Ramos had to say is far from the last word. So the next question is, will her ruling stand, for this election and after?

“It gets very tricky now that we’re so close to the election,” said Joseph Fishkin, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

[...]

Abbott is likely not only to file an appeal of Ramos’ ruling but also to request a stay to prevent her decision from being applied to this election until the appeals court has a chance to consider it.

What’s unclear is whether the New Orleans appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court will get involved in the dispute before the election.

The Supreme Court has “said they don’t like to change the rules right before an election,” Fishkin said.

Chad Dunn, one of the lawyers for the groups suing the state in the voter ID case, said on Friday he believes it’s unlikely the 5th Circuit or the Supreme Court will overturn Ramos’ ruling.

“It’s going to be striking if the 5th Circuit or the Supreme Court, so close to the election, says, ‘We’re going to allow this law to be in effect, even though a trial court has heard all this evidence,’” said Dunn, who represents the League of United Latin American Citizens and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Dallas.

In her ruling, Ramos also indicated that she would issue an injunction preventing the photo ID requirement from being enforced during the upcoming election.

But Chris Gober, a political law attorney in Austin, said it’s likely the 5th Circuit will lift Ramos’ injunction once she files it, meaning voters would need to show the photo ID in November.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the 5th Circuit lifted the injunction due to the close proximity of the election,” Gober said.

Here’s the rest of what Chad Dunn had to say. Judge Ramos has made her injunction against voter ID official, so it’s on to the next steps from here. You know my opinion of the Fifth Circuit, but I have no idea how this might play out. The political effect may be bigger than any practical effect, but who knows? I’m going to celebrate the justice of Judge Ramos’ words and let the rest take care of itself. PDiddie has more.

Posted in: Election 2014.

YouGov: Abbott 54, Davis 40

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

As Ed Kilgore noted on Friday evening, YouGov dropped a load of gubernatorial race polls, including another Texas result. You may look at the topline number and feel dejected, but let me point out two things. One is that YouGov has consistently been the most pessimistic pollster for Davis. This is the third result they’ve published, and it’s the closest they’ve shown the race yet. Last month, they had Abbott up by 18, 56-38, so you could say that Davis is closing the gap. That may seem like cold comfort with such a margin, but YouGov isn’t the only game in town, and other polls have shown some movement as well in the same direction. The Davis campaign, the yang to YouGov’s ying, says its polling shows a six point race, down from nine a couple of weeks ago. Whatever the margin, the general consensus is that the race is tightening. YouGov, in its idiosyncratic way, supports that.

The other point is that YouGov had Davis up by five among women, 46-41. That appears to be the driver of the difference between this poll and the last one, in which they had Abbott up by a point, 43-42. Abbott made a big deal about his two-point lead among women in the Lyceum poll, though that lead depended on their likely voter screen. If Davis is gaining among women, that’s definitely a good sign.

Anyway. YouGov also had a Senate result, showing Big John Cornyn up by 20 over David Alameel. That result is identical to their previous poll, and it shows Cornyn leading Alameel among women by five points. Those numbers are additional evidence that something is happening in the Governor’s race. There’s still a lot of ground to make up whether you buy YouGov’s model or not, but the wind does seem to be blowing in a favorable direction.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Reminder: Uber and Lyft aren’t legal yet in Houston

Drive for ‘em at your own risk for the next month or so.

Uber

New entrants into Houston’s paid-ride market can’t be licensed to operate for another month, but the transition is proving problematic as the companies and drivers rack up citations and the city impounds vehicles.

Since Aug. 6, when the City Council approved changes to the city’s for-hire transportation rules, Uber and Lyft have received 1,046 citations – more than the 861 issued in the six months between the companies’ February launch and the council vote. The companies connect riders and drivers via smartphone apps.

“We are still enforcing all aspects of our ordinance daily,” said Tina Paez, director of the city’s regulatory affairs department. “We started impounding last Thursday.”

Inspectors pose as passengers and issue citations once the fare is charged.

As of Friday, four vehicles – one rogue cab, two vehicles affiliated with Uber and one with Lyft – have been seized by police. The authority to impound violators’ vehicles came with the rule changes in August, in part because many council members felt the city lacked leverage to keep Uber and Lyft in check.

[...]

Lyft

As taxi and limo companies urged the city to crack down on the companies, the new entrants pushed for regulatory changes the city already was considering. Ultimately, many of the changes sought by Uber and Lyft were adopted by the City Council, along with a procedure for permitting and regulating the companies and their drivers, who operate as independent contractors.

Council members provided a 60-day window to get the permitting process settled, meaning the city can start issuing permits on Nov. 4. On Monday, the city and companies can start working on details such as drug screenings, which can take place within 30 days of seeking the permit.

Based on what Uber has told city officials to expect, Paez said, thousands of permits could be issued in the first few weeks.

“We expect it to be greater than 5,000, and that’s just Uber,” Paez said.

See here for the story about Uber and Lyft being approved by Council, and note the bit about waiting 90 days to sign up for a permit. Go through the process, y’all – that’s what it’s there for, and that’s what all the shouting and wrangling was about. I have long said that I expect there to be demand for these services from people that don’t currently use cabs, and I fully expect the overall vehicle-for-hire market to grow, but I don’t know if it will be big enough to handle 5,000 or more new drivers, even if they’re mostly part-timers. Not at first, anyway. I hope someone is planning to do a study on the effect of the entrance of Uber and Lyft on existing cab companies and other services. I’d really like to have a better idea of how this worked out in a year’s time or so. The Highwayman has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Endorsement watch: Sweep for Sam Houston

The Houston Chronicle endorses Sam Houston, completing a sweep of the big papers for the Democratic candidate for Attorney General.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

Democratic candidate Sam Houston is the best choice on the ballot. A graduate of Baylor Law School and candidate for Texas Supreme Court in 2008, Houston is more than just a famous name (though it certainly doesn’t hurt). Houston, 51, is board certified in civil trial advocacy and has 26 years experience as a Houston-based litigator, practicing civil law at the state and federal level. With executive experience managing his law firm, Houston will bring the attitude of an attorney over that of a politician.

Meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Houston said that he would rely more on mediation than politically charged proactive lawsuits. That strategy may not make headlines, but it stands to save taxpayer dollars while getting good results for Texas.

This balanced, professional attitude should help win over some traditionally Republican voters, who find themselves with a troubling candidate.

State Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, puts forth the persona of a Sunday school teacher but has a history of lawbreaking and questionable business practices that should disqualify him in the minds of Texans.

They go on to make as thorough an accounting of Paxton’s sins as you’ll see. I expected Houston to sweep the endorsements from the beginning, on the grounds that editorial boards tend to not like lawbreakers, but it’s still good to see it happen. I’ll be interested to see how the smaller papers, especially those in deep red areas like Lubbock or Midland, handle this. They tend to endorse later, since they have fewer candidates to consider. Ideology is the only argument Ken Paxton has. We’ll see how far it gets him in places that would otherwise be his breadbasket.

Speaking of ideology and candidates that deserve all of the endorsements, the Statesman gave their nod to Leticia Van de Putte for Lite Gov.

In the contest for lieutenant governor between Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio and Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, the question voters should ask is whether they want a Texas Senate capable of governing, or a Senate that risks devolving into Washington-style gridlock. We favor a functional Senate and urge voters to support Van de Putte.

Elected to the Texas House in 1990 and the Texas Senate in 1999, Van de Putte, 59, a pharmacist by training, possesses a deep knowledge of state government and owns a successful legislative record. Throughout her political career, she has fought for public and higher education, women’s health care, equal pay for women and programs to help veterans and military families. She’s widely respected and liked by her colleagues.

As a candidate for lieutenant governor, she has called for funding all-day pre-kindergarten and reducing standardized testing. She supports the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And as the daughter of a Latino family that has been in Texas for generations, Van de Putte has a perspective on immigration and border security that is grounded in reality and possibility, not divisive rhetoric like Patrick’s.

Granted, Van de Putte, if elected, will be called on to lead a conservative Texas Senate disinclined to follow a Democrat, but her career has been distinguished by an ability to work with senators on all sides of a debate. We’re confident she can forge coalitions and find common paths forward to meet the state’s education, health care, infrastructure and other priorities and needs.

Where Van de Putte knows how to reach across the aisle, the confrontational Patrick, 64, shows more interest in using his conservative majority to dominate, bully and ram through legislation than in seeking bipartisan consensus.

That would be the choice, all right. Patrick doesn’t have Paxton’s ethical issues, but he has enough other baggage to weigh down a 747. Editorial boards don’t like crooks, and they also generally don’t like obnoxious ideologues, especially when there’s a viable alternative. That isn’t quite as reliable an indicator – see the Chronicle’s regrettable endorsement of Ted Cruz in 2012 on the laughable grounds that he couldn’t possibly have meant all those crazy things he’d been saying on the campaign trail – but it’s still a pretty good bet. The Chron seems to have absorbed that lesson since they endorsed Van de Putte earlier, and it’s my expectation that the other papers will follow. We’ll see.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Saturday video break: Danny Boy

I have no idea who might have done this originally, so I nominate the King’s Singers for the canonical version:

The main problem with this song is that it’s so easy to do an over the top schmaltzy version of it. If there’s one person who can put the feels into it without the schmaltz, it’s got to be Johnny Cash:

Another way to avoid schmaltz is to do it in a non-traditional way, as Black 47 did. Don’t be fooled by the mellow intro, wait for it and you’ll see.

What’s your favorite version of this classic?

Posted in: Music.

Court strikes down Texas voter ID law

Boom.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Less than two weeks before the start of early voting, a federal judge ruled the state’s photo voter ID law unconstitutional late Thursday and ordered state officials to drop the new requirements.

“The Court holds that SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,” U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi wrote in a 147-page opinion. “The Court further holds that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state would immediately file an appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The State of Texas will immediately appeal and will urge the Fifth Circuit to resolve this matter quickly to avoid voter confusion in the upcoming election,” Lauren Bean said in an emailed statement. “The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional so we are confident the Texas law will be upheld on appeal.”

[...]

The judge heard three weeks of evidence in September and issued her opinion on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court stopped immediate implementation of a similar law in Wisconsin.

It was not immediately clear what will happen to this year’s general election. The judge said she would schedule a conference with the lawyers to discuss it, and a successful appeal by Abbott, who is also the Republican nominee for governor, could put the law back into effect for this election while the courts sort out a full appeal.

Here’s more on the Wisconsin voter ID ruling. There are two things to emphasize here. One is that in addition to striking down the law, Judge Ramos found intentional discrimination on the part of the state in passing the law. That potentially allows for Texas to be bailed back in to preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which is something the Justice Department specifically sought. The other is that there’s a good chance that Judge Ramos’ ruling could be stayed, allowing voter ID to be implemented for this election while the appeals go forward. Rick Hasen explains.

In Ohio, the court changed the law close to the election, but more importantly, it imposed an order reestablishing 5 weeks of early voting when the state was still willing to give four. There was no significant burden on plaintiffs and so the lower courts were wrong to order this emergency relief. In North Carolina, North Carolina’s law, which I’ve dubbed the strict set of voting restrictions we’ve seen enacted as a package since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, should be found unconstitutional. But even so, under the Purcell v. Gonzalez principle, it was wrong for the 4th Circuit to make this change in the rules so close to the election (particularly where plaintiffs waited a while to seek a preliminary injunction [this has been corrected]).

That same Purcell principle applies even more strongly to Wisconsin. That is, even if the Supreme Court ultimately would say that Wisconsin’s law is constitutional and does not violate the Voting Rights Act, this is a very strong case under Purcell. (As I explained, the key question is whether Wisconsin has a strong enough state interest in its sovereignty over elections to implement a voter id law very quickly before the election, when there has been no preparation and when the undisputed evidence shows that, by the state’s own account, up to 10 percent of the state’s voters could be disenfranchised (a position the 7th Circuit en banc dissenters called shocking).

Finally, what happens now with Texas, with the huge win for challengers to Texas’s voter id law which Justin wrote about earlier? It is 4 am where I am and I may have missed it, but in all of the court’s findings—the Texas law violates the Equal Protection clause, is a poll tax, violates the Voting Rights Act, and engaged in enough intentional discrimination to be put back under preclearance–there is no discussion of whether the actual order will apply to this election and the injunction will stop its use in this election.

This order too creates a huge Purcell problem, as I’ve blogged, changing the rules so close to the election. If the district court orders an immediate stop to Texas’s id law, I expect the 5th Circuit (if not the Supreme Court) to reverse that on Purcell grounds.

He’s the expert, but I would argue that the default for the vast majority of voters has been not needing to show ID, and that it would be less disruptive to enjoin the law pending appeals. The Texas Election Law Blog, going by an earlier Justin Levitt post, thinks Judge Ramos’ decision was written to address the Purcell issue. I hope they’re right, but as always with matters involving the Fifth Circuit, I have no faith in their jurisprudence. A press release from the Brennan Center is here, the Chron story is here, and BOR, Burka, Newsdesk, and PDiddie have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Smoking ban extended to pedestrian plazas

I’m okay with this.

Main Street Square is now a smoke-free zone following the City Council’s decision Wednesday to expand Houston’s smoking ban to pedestrian plazas, marking the latest effort from the Parker administration to curb lighting up in public places.

The changes to the smoking ordinance are twofold: it expands the ban to Houston’s three so-called “public pedestrian plazas” – streets permanently closed to car traffic but open to pedestrians; it also adds “combustible” and “plant materials” to products included in the smoking ban. City Attorney Dave Feldman introduced those changes last month alongside a proposed ban on synthetic marijuana, that will go to the council next week.

Feldman said complaints from business owners at Main Street Square about smoking and litter prompted the move to expand the ordinance.

In researching how to ban smoking at Main Street Square, the legal department realized there were two other areas in the city that qualify as public pedestrian walkways: a small area on Dunlavy north of Allen Parkway near Beth Yeshurun Cemetery and a block-long portion of the Columbia Tap Rail Trail along Walker Street between Dowling and St. Charles.

Previously, the city’s smoking ordinance contemplated only tobacco, outlawing smoking within 25 feet of a public facility, places of employment, bars and restaurants, outdoor sports arenas and stadiums, city libraries and parks.

The prohibition on smoking in parks and outside libraries is a recent development. I see this as an extension of that. There’s an argument to be made, as some Council members did, that this is an infringement on smokers’ freedom. I get that but I don’t buy it. It’s one block – keep walking, and in another 30 seconds you can light up again. As for the synthetic marijuana stuff, see Texpatriate for a primer. This is probably the last tweak to the no-smoking ordinances for the foreseeable future, at least until we know more about the health effects of e-cigarettes.

Posted in: Local politics.

Sameena Karmally

Meet Sameena Karmally, whose race against Jodie Laubenbeg is important not for if she wins or loses but for what she represents.

Sameena Karmally

If Democrats are going to turn Texas purple, they need to do a lot of work at the local level. Long-hidden voters need to be identified, and organizational abilities need to be strengthened. To do that, Democrats need good candidates to run in local elections. Even if they don’t win, they’ll do their bit to put calcium back in the Democratic Party’s old bones. They might run in red districts with little chance of victory, but they’ll pave the way for future contenders.

But standing for election is hell—it’s costly, and it exacts an enormous personal and professional toll. Most people won’t do it if they don’t have a decent chance of success—and there aren’t many places in Texas these days where a Democrat has that chance. So big pockets of the state don’t have any Democrats of significance running locally, which further alienates ordinary people from Democratic politics. It’s a tenacious feedback loop that’s going to be difficult to break.

Some Democrats, though, are doing their part. Take Sameena Karmally, who’s been waging a long-shot effort in heavily Republican House District 89, which covers an area north and east of Plano. In a different context, Karmally would make a star candidate. She’s a lawyer and mother of two who grew up in the Metroplex. She’s smart and thoughtful, and has a compelling personal story: She’s the daughter of Indian Muslim immigrants, and worked her tail off to get to UT School of Law. This is one of those races that seems to embody the clash of the old Texas and new Texas, particularly because she’s running against state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker).

If you know Laubenberg for one thing, it’s that she became the public face of the coalition backing last summer’s abortion restrictions. Laubenberg sponsored House Bill 2, the legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered. During debate on the bill, Laubenberg famously said that a rape exception for abortion restrictions was unnecessary because hospitals “have what’s called rape kits,” so “the woman can get cleaned out.”

That remark earned her international notoriety, but at home, Laubenberg cruises from re-election to re-election. She hasn’t had a primary opponent since 2002, and hasn’t had to run against a Democrat since 2006. She has perfect scores of 100 from Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, wins awards from groups like the Young Conservatives of Texas, and is lauded by the NRA and pro-life groups. She’s the state chair of the influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes bills for conservative state legislators.

When Laubenberg first won her seat, it was a predominantly rural district. But the Metroplex has experienced explosive growth, and the nature of her district has changed. The last bout of redistricting cut off Laubenberg from the most rural areas, and now HD 89 is heavily suburban, with a growing immigrant population. Many of the district’s residents work for tech companies. The district is less Republican than it used to be, but on paper, it’s still looks prohibitive for Democrats. In 2004, every member of the Republican slate won more than 75 percent of the vote—in 2012, Mitt Romney won just under two-thirds.

The Texas Observer met Karmally in Plano to talk about her race.

Go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. The point Karmally makes more than once is that the district is very different than it used to be – where it was once mostly rural, it’s now mostly suburban, with a lot of new residents – and that the biggest hurdle she or any Democrat in the district faces is that no one really knows who the Democratic voters out there are, or how many of them there are. They all have that “I thought I was the only Democrat here” reaction typical to such places when they meet Karmally or get invited to a Dem event. That’s what organizing is all about, and places like this, in Collin County – around here it would be places like Montgomery and Brazoria Counties, plus the fast-growing parts of western and northwestern Harris County; think HDs 126, 130, 132, and 135 – and it’s job one for Battleground Texas.

To put some numbers to this, since that’s what I’m all about, here are the last three off-year Railroad Commissioner results from HD89:

Year R candidate R votes R Pct D Candidate D votes D Pct =============================================================== 2002 Williams 17,281 75.0 Broyles 5,767 25.0 2006 Jones 19,498 69.1 Henry 8,706 30.9 2010 Porter 23,923 69.5 Weems 9,014 26.2

There were third party candidates in the RRC race in 2010 but not in 2002 or 2006, so that’s why the 2010 totals don’t add up to 100%. Note that the increase in Dem voters from 2002 to 2006 was greater than the increase in R voters in that period, but the increase in R voters in the tsunami year of 2010 was more than ten times as much as the increase in D voters that year. Needless to say, that pattern can’t continue. I don’t know what a realistic goal is for this district, but if you assume a modest bump in R voters to 25,000 total, then Dems need a boost of 6,000 voters – more than the total number of votes they got in 2002 – just to get to 40%. I say that not to rain on Sameena Karmally’s parade – she’s a terrific candidate, endorsed by the DMN, doing great work in a place where it’s desperately needed – but to add some perspective for when we see the final numbers. Adding six thousand votes here would be a super accomplishment. Dems will need to duplicate that kind of result all over the state to make a difference. It’s about the big picture as much as it is about any one race.

Posted in: Election 2014.