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That sexual harassment day of reckoning in Texas politics has begun

The Daily Beast follows up its initial reporting about the secret sexual predators of Texas politics with a story that names names. Two names, in particular. Rather than excerpt at length, allow me to quote the Texas Monthly Daily Post summary of the article:

Two Texas state lawmakers face new sexual harassment allegations. Democratic state Representatives Borris Miles and Carlos Uresti were both named in detailed claims of sexual harassment by several people, including former staffers and interns, in a story published by the Daily Beast late Wednesday night. One woman said that when she was a Texas legislative intern, Miles approached her and offered her cash, saying, “Bitch, you want to fuck with me tonight?” In a separate alleged incident, a Democratic state representative said that he witnessed Miles leaning out of a bus and loudly cat-calling women on the streets of downtown Austin. A former legislative staffer said he saw Miles forcibly kiss a woman at the W Hotel in Austin. “He offered to buy her a drink, kept trying to kiss her, and she kept trying to push him away,” the staffer told the Daily Beast. “He kept laughing about it. It was so creepy, and he had this big smile . . . He also has a tendency to call women out of their name when they turn him down. ‘Bitch,’ ‘ho,’ ‘whore.’ He doesn’t like being told ‘no.’” Uresti, meanwhile, apparently had gained a reputation for harassing women. “[Uresti] was one of the worst,” former Texas political reporter Karen Brooks told the Daily Beast. “He would check me out all the time . . . He gave me inappropriate hugs. He put his hands on me, he ogled me. I would not get in an elevator with him. If members were having dinner and he was going to be there, I stopped going.” Another former reporter said Uresti “put his tongue down my throat” without her consent after they went out for happy hour drinks. Uresti denied the allegations to the Daily Beast; Miles’s office did not return requests for comment.

Go read the whole thing. It’s clear these two are not the only offenders – Wendy Davis mentions but does not name a Republican legislator who groped her at the Capitol, and there are strong implications that there are many horror stories about lobbyists to be told, all just for starters – but for now we must reckon with Sens. Miles and Uresti. The fact that this story came out on the same day that US Senator Al Franken announced his resignation in response to allegations that were not as harrowing as the ones made here should not be lost on us. I’ve known Sen. Miles since he first ran for the Lege in 2006 against Al Edwards. I’ve never met Sen. Uresti, but I was glad to see him defeat the late Frank Madla in 2006. Both of them were improvements over the incumbents they ousted, and both have done good work in Austin. But both of them need to be held accountable for their actions. Both of them need to resign, and the sooner the better.

It brings me no joy to say any of this, but here we are. There are no excuses or justifications for their actions. It’s an eternal stain on all of us that the system in place at the Capitol allowed this sort of behavior – which, again, is very much not limited to Borris Miles and Carlos Uresti – with no consequences for anyone but the victims. Resigning won’t undo what has been done and it won’t give justice to those that Miles and Uresti are alleged to have harassed and assaulted, but it will at least be a small step in the direction of bringing those days and those ways to an end. We as Democrats and as decent human beings have a responsibility to the people our officials represent and to ourselves to lead the way on changing behavior. If it grates on Sens. Miles and Uresti, as it did on Sen. Franklin, that they are being pushed out when the likes of Donald Trump and Roy Moore and Blake Farenthold seem to be getting a pass, I understand. That is indeed an injustice. But this is what I have the power to affect right now.

Of course, nobody really cares what some guy on the Internet thinks. For the right thing to happen, Democratic elected officials and other high profile individuals must act as well. Annie’s List got the ball rolling by urging the two Senators to resign. Others need to follow their lead. The people who are peers and colleagues and donors and other influencers of Sens. Miles and Uresti need to use that influence and give the same message to them. Their behavior was completely unacceptable. They need to step down. And note that on a practical level, neither is on the ballot this year, so simply not filing for re-election in 2020 isn’t enough. The right answer is to step down now, so successors can be elected in time for the beginning of the 2019 session. Both Miles and Uresti have since put out statements denying the allegations, so this isn’t going to happen without a fight. It’s ugly and it’s discouraging, but there’s no other choice.

Smokey Joe will not run for re-election

Another one bites the dust.

Rep. Joe Barton

Embattled U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, announced his retirement from Congress on Thursday.

“I am very proud of my public record and the many accomplishments of my office. It has been a tremendous honor to represent the 6th District of Texas for over three decades, but now it is time to step aside and let there be a new voice.”

“I am announcing today that I will not seek reelection in 2018,” he said. “To the people of the 6th District, thank you for your support and friendship.”

Barton’s decision was first announced by The Dallas Morning News.

The decision came after a tumultuous week for the congressman, after a nude photo of Barton surfaced on social media.

The drumbeat for Barton’s exit came from local officials, including state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Tarrant County GOP Chairman Tim O’Hare.

His retirement sets off a race to replace him, a race that is all but certain to be determined in the GOP primary.

Two Republicans, perennial candidate Monte Mitchell and former Navy pilot Jake Ellzey, entered the race in recent days. As Barton’s problems mounted, a movement got underway to draft Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright, a former Barton staffer. He did not immediately return a call after Barton’s announcement.

See here and here for the background. A subsequent report about pervy text messages sent by Barton to a local Republican activist probably pushed him in the direction of this decision. I quibble with the Trib’s “all but certain to be determined in the GOP primary” characterization. I’d classify CD06 as Strong Republican, but not Safe Republican. The GOP will be a big favorite, but they can’t take this one for granted, especially in a year as bad as 2018 is threatening to be.

It should be noted that Barton is not resigning. Unless he has a further announcement to make, he’ll serve out the rest of his term. Nonetheless, the fact that he felt compelled to step down causes Think Progress to castigate national Democrats for their failure to put the same kind of pressure on Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers. It’s entirely possible there’s more to the Barton story than what we know now, just as it turned out there was more to the Franken story than what first came out, but they make a good point. At the very least, all of these incidents, and no doubt more of them to come, show just how badly Congress needs a sexual harassment policy and process in place that works for the victims.

(And just as a reminder: Donald Trump is still President, Roy Moore is likely to be elected Senator, and Clarence Thomas, who is oddly overlooked in the ongoing conversation about sexual assault and harassment, remains on the Supreme Court, having been appointed by a President who turned out to have his own gropiness issues. It’s harassment all the way down.)

As for the field in CD06, the Star-Telegram updates us:

Republican Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright — a former chief of staff and district director for Barton — said he will file to run for the 6th Congressional District, which includes most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.

[…]

Republican J.K. “Jake” Ellzey, a Texas Veterans Commission member who lives in Midlothian, also has filed to run for the post.

Several Democrats are in the race, including Ruby Faye Woolridge of Arlington, who ran against Barton in 2016; Jana Lynne Sanchez, a public relations specialist from Arlington; Levii R. Shocklee of Arlington; and John W. Duncan.

As I noted before, there are a couple of other Dems who have filed finance reports for CD06 and have campaign webpages up. On the Republican side, State Sen. Konni Burton, who is up for re-election but hasn’t filed yet, could jump over to this race. Nothing like a fleet of Congressional retirements to shake things up at the lower levels. RG Ratcliffe and Daily Kos have more.

Would he be “Mayor Bun B”, or just “Mayor B”?

Rocks Off looks at the field of Mayoral candidates for 2015 and asks “Why not Bun B?”

Bun B and some lady

So to whom might the Bayou City turn for leadership through the latter half of this decade? The field is literally wide open, with only the usual allotment of ambitious policy wonks and green City Council members jockeying to move up in the municipal ranks at the moment. It might even be time to consider an outsider — in fact, someone whose nickname is already “Houston’s unofficial mayor.”

How does Mayor Bun B sound?

Laughable, according to the popular Houston rapper, whose latest album Trill O.G.: “The Epilogue” came out Tuesday and who performs at the Houston Symphony’s “Houston In Concert Against Hate” Anti-Defamation League gala Thursday night at Jones Hall.

“Too many skeletons in the closet, lol,” Bun told Rocks Off recently via email.

But what about those skeletons? Certainly Houston voters have proved they can be a tolerant lot, and Bun B the OG rapper now has plenty of company in his bio, with Bun B the Rice University comparative-religion professor, Houston Symphony collaborator and trusted friend/adviser to Houston’s existing mayor, who asked Bun to sit on her task force to combat texting and driving in April of this year. People have certainly run for mayor with fewer credentials than that.

UGK’s lyrics frequently criticized the guns and drugs that were rife in their hardscrabble neighborhood, while Bun and late partner Pimp C were never shy about celebrating the psychotropic indulgences that temporarily removed them from their grim surroundings. But they also never backed down from a fight, and never, ever rolled fake. Surely many voters would flock to a candidate like that, not to mention someone who understands the finer points of grippin’ grain and switchin’ lanes.

One of Houston’s leading political analysts says that kind of street cred could be invaluable in a mayoral campaign.

“I think one way for him to embrace the image is to use that as a way to create a real, visible narrative of what’s happening out there, and letting people know that these problems need to be addressed, and he is a good person to do it,” says Dr. Brandon Rottinghaus, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston. “A traditional politician may talk about those issues, but maybe hasn’t lived it, where in his case he has lived it and it gives him some credibility in a way doesn’t give credibility to a traditional politician.”

Rottinghaus likens Bun’s hypothetical campaign to that of someone like former Minnesota Gov. Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who in ran as the same kind of brash, outspoken maverick he was for years as a popular WWF wrestler, where he often played the “heel.” Ventura’s straight-shooting message connected with Minnesota voters, and he served four years in the state’s highest electoral office.

“The campaign ads he ran were all about how he was gonna wrestle the opposition, and it was time for a change in Minnesota, and he had kids with little Jesse Ventura action figures who were pummeling the competition,” says Rottinghaus “So they made that image work for them.”

One of the commenters on this story suggested a campaign slogan: “Vote Bun B For Mayor And Keep Houston Trill As F**k”. You’d hardly have to campaign with a slogan as awesome as that.

On a more serious note, the main problem with the Jesse Ventura analogy is that while one can certainly imagine getting a decent share of the vote running as an anti-establishment celebrity candidate, especially if one is blessed with opponents who are colorless or laden with baggage, that’s not enough to win. Ventura himself won with 37% of the vote in his three-way race. Thirty-seven percent won’t get you elected Mayor of Houston, however. It can only get you into a runoff. You need an actual majority to win, and that’s a much harder thing to do, especially if one’s primary appeal is to youth and one is running in an election where the average voter’s age is north of 50.

(Note to everyone who is now saying to themselves “Wait, didn’t Rick Perry get elected Governor in 2006 with 39% of the vote?”: The law in Texas is basically that only in partisan races, which is to say November races in even numbered years, is a plurality enough to win. In other elections – primaries, special elections, non-partisan elections like Houston city elections – a majority is necessary and if no one gets a majority, a runoff follows. There are some exceptions to this, but the bottom line is that Rick Perry’s non-majority election in 2006 has no bearing on City of Houston elections and the need for 50% plus one.)

Now, there is another model that Bun B could follow, and it’s a model demonstrated by another successful celebrity politician from Minnesota: Sen. Al Franken. There’s no reason why Bun B couldn’t do like Franken did and turn himself into a policy wonk, and thus broaden his appeal beyond his fanbase and the usual anti-establishment types to include the kind of voter who tends to participate in Houston city races. As the story notes, Bun B is already a man of many talents who has a history of getting involved in political matters. It wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. Obviously, I don’t expect Bun B to announce a candidacy (though I must say, I’d enjoy interviewing him if he did run). This is the sort of fun thing we political types like to chatter about during the slow times. But if he does have a hankering for public service in him, there’s no reason why he couldn’t do it.

(Yes, I know, some serious people are making serious guesses about who may or may not run for Mayor and other city offices in 2015. I thought about doing one of those myself, but got caught up in too many other things during the holidays. There will be plenty of time for such discussions later. For now, this was way more fun to talk about.)

Cornyn clueless about KBH

Like everybody else, Sen. John Cornyn has no idea what his senior colleague in the Senate is going to do. And also like the rest of us, or at least us bloggers, he’s willing to speculate wildly about it in public.

Cornyn, who also chairs the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee, has pleaded with her not to resign early. After all, if there’s a special election to replace Hutchison, Democrats would have a golden opportunity to pick up the seat, with a strong field including Houston Mayor Bill White and ex-Comptroller John Sharp. Cornyn would rather be safe than have to spend millions playing defense.

With only 40 Republicans in the Senate and the soap opera in Minnesota almost surely a lost cause, Cornyn doesn’t want to risk any more GOP-held spots any sooner than necessary.

“We certainly can’t afford to lose that [Hutchison] seat,” he said.

But the National Republican Senatorial Committee boss says he’s wary of White, who is “running a very serious race” and has raised gobs of campaign cash.

“He’s definitely on my radar,” Cornyn said.

With all the jockeying already going on in the Senate race to replace Hutchison, when does he think she will resign her seat?

“My guess,” he told Texas reporters at his Senate office today, is that Hutchison will resign “this fall sometime.”

That would allow Perry to appoint an interim senator and allow a special election to take place in May 2010 instead of this November (which would happen if she resigned this spring or summer).

But Cornyn readily admits that he has no inside info.

“There’s only one person who knows,” the San Antonio Republican said, “and it’s not me.”

Familiar sentiment, no? I’ll say again, I think she stays because she doesn’t want Rick Perry to appoint a replacement, but who knows? Join the club, John.

Specter switches

As Greg says, wow.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken’s victory in the state Supreme Court.)

“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”

He added: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

My thoughts:

1. I sure hope the Democrats got some kind of assurances about how Specter would vote going forward, because he needed them way more than they needed him. Given that he’s reiterated his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, the opening stanza isn’t too promising.

2. In many ways, this really doesn’t change much. Yes, assuming Sen. Al Franken gets seated sometime before he stands for re-election, this gives the Democrats the magic number of 60 members. The thing is, Senate Democrats have been a bigger obstacle to President Obama’s agenda than any other group. Conservative Dems such as Sen. Ben Nelson have the leverage to foil, water down, or otherwise pimp to their liking just about anything Obama wants to push. Specter’s switch doesn’t change this dynamic at all.

3. Having said that, there is a way in which Specter’s switch could have a profound effect:

Arlen Specter (R-PA) is rumored to be ready to become Arlen Specter (D-PA). There are a million aspects of that worth examining. But here’s one for process nuts. Check out the Senate Judiciary Committee Rules:

IV. BRINGING A MATTER TO A VOTE

The Chairman shall entertain a non-debatable motion to bring a matter before the Committee to a vote. If there is objection to bring the matter to a vote without further debate, a roll call vote of the Committee shall be taken, and debate shall be terminated if the motion to bring the matter to a vote without further debate passes with ten votes in the affirmative, one of which must be cast by the minority.

Your current lineup of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Arlen Specter
Orrin Hatch
Chuck Grassley
Jon Kyl
Jeff Sessions
Lindsey Graham
John Cornyn
Tom Coburn

Which of these fellas do you think will be ready to provide the necessary one vote from the minority to bring things to a vote in the committee on tough questions now?

Specter is caucusing with the Democrats, but he’s still a Republican as far as committee assignments go, and will be one until there’s a new organizing resolution. Same for all the other committees he’s on. Democrats were always going to call for a new organizing resolution once Franken gets seated. Now, maybe they’re willing to let that process play out. Which poison do you think the Senate GOPers would prefer to choose – the fox in the henhouse, or Senator Sixty? Decisions, decisions…

4. Speaking of which, how does this affect the KBH will-she-stay-or-will-she-resign equation? Short answer: beats the beck out of me. On the one hand, you’d think Sen. Cornyn would want her to stay that much more. On the other hand, once Franken is in place, as he inevitably will be, what difference does it make? As always, the answer is “Who knows what KBH will do?”

5. Having said that, prepare to have your mind blown even further. I don’t see any way in which this happens, nor do I see rank and file Democrats being that thrilled at the prospect, for better or worse. But crazier things have happened, and there is an objective logic to it.

6. Dealing with party switchers in general causes headaches and almost always comes with a fair bit of bellyaching up front. Which is totally understandable, especially in the case of someone as obviously calculating and driven by self-interest as Specter is. I get where people like Atrios are coming from, I really do, and it’s completely possible that what we’ll get is a nominal Democrat who doesn’t really change his behavior in any meaningful way. Even worse, we may be sacrificing the chance to elect a better Democrat in 2010 and risk losing to a Republican who’s slightly less crazy than Pat Toomey (not a high bar to clear), since the case against Specter pretty much writes itself. He’s going to have to prove himself, and I hope Dems like Joe Sestak keep their powder dry until it’s clear that Specter is walking the walk. Here in Texas, we’ve had some very good results, as State Rep. Kirk England has been a fine member of the Democratic caucus, and State Sen. Wendy Davis (who had some Republican voting history but had never held office as a Republican) is a rising star having by my count an outstanding freshman session. Whether or not the past stays in the past depends entirely on what happens going forward. It’s totally up to Sen. Specter.

7. Finally, whatever else this is about, I love Specter’s rationale for switching. It’s an acknowledgment of reality, something which his now-former colleagues have less and less experience with these days. Once upon a time, party switchers helped the GOP grow bigger and stronger. Now it’s helping them grow smaller and weaker. I couldn’t be happier about that.

Cornymandias

Look on his works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Texas Sen. John Cornyn is threatening “World War III” if Democrats try to seat Al Franken in the Senate before Norm Coleman can pursue his case through the federal courts.

Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, acknowledges that a federal challenge to November’s elections could take “years” to resolve. But he’s adamant that Coleman deserves that chance — even if it means Minnesota is short a senator for the duration.

This comes at the same time as Cornyn’s demand for a complete change in the district court nominations process to suit his whims. I just have one question about this: When exactly did the chairmanship of the NRSC become such a powerful position? I mean, who knew so much hung on his re-election last year?