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Betty Brown

Cut education now, pay later?

That’s the question for Republican legislators, isn’t it?

GOP legislators didn’t budge this session from their commitment to reduce Texas’ education spending even in the face of protests, negative ad campaigns and reams of criticism.

The outcry didn’t faze them because it wasn’t coming from within their party.

That might change, some Republicans say, once parents see the aftermath in their child’s school of the state’s $4 billion — or 5.6 percent — reduction in what is owed to local school districts. The fallout could include teacher layoffs, school closures and elimination of extra programs or higher property taxes.

Republican incumbents “are going to be sent home by Republican primary voters because what they’re doing in public education is not in any way conservative,” said State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant. “Our version of conservative is mainstream conservative, not extreme conservative.”

Of course, there’s more to it than just the Republican primary, which is what this story focuses on. Republicans voted as a unified bloc all session, so legislators in swing districts will be running on the same record as legislators in safe R seats. There will be a lot more voters who don’t vote in Republican primaries to persuade that this was the wrong thing to do. If it really is the case that education is seen as the most important issue, then that will help. Right now it’s anybody’s guess, and there are too many factors that can influence things to have any clear idea about what will happen. It’s just too early to say.

I will say this much: The Tea Party influence on Republican legislative primaries may be a tad bit overstated. A grand total of three Republican incumbents fell to primary challenges. Two of them – Tommy Merritt and Delwyn Jones – were longtime targets of the more radical elements. The third – well, let me ask: Can you name the third Republican incumbent to lose in a 2010 primary? Off the top of your head, without using the Internet? I’ll tell you that I had either never realized this particular legislator had lost, or I’d forgotten it because the winner of that race has been completely invisible (to me, anyway). I’ll put the answer beneath the fold. Other targeted legislators like Charlie Geren and Todd Smith survived. Some of the noisier teabaggers, like James White, Jason Isaac, and Jose Aliseda, were unopposed in their primaries. The teabaggers did do well in primaries for open seats, and Bill Birdwell’s victory in the SD22 special election against the establishment candidate David Sibley was a big deal, but the overall record isn’t deep. While it’s clear that the threat of getting teabagged worked wonders for party unity this year, what will happen in 2012 if the interests of the Republicans’ monied interests diverge from the teabaggers is unknown. EoW has more.

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Election results: The Lege

There are way too many races to recap here, and since the Trib has done such a thorough job of it, I’ll leave the heavy lifting to them. A few highlights:

– Steve Ogden easily won re-nomination in SD5, and Kip Averitt was returned to the ballot in SD22. Each faced fringe opponents, so these are good results as far as maintaining a functioning Senate goes. Averitt as we know had sought to drop out. He may yet do that, at which time we’ll get appointed nominees from both parties; if he changes his mind, he’s in, as no Dem filed originally.

– Borris Miles won by a razor-thin margin over Al Edwards in HD146. The margin as of this morning was all of eleven votes. Yes, you can expect a recount, and that’s a small enough number that there’s a chance the outcome could change. Don’t carve anything into stone just yet. A statement from Miles’ campaign is beneath the fold.

– Despite some predictions that Rep. Terri Hodge, who recently pleaded guilty to lying on her tax returns and stated her intention to resign after being sentenced, would still win her primary, challenger Eric Johnson defeated her by a large margin. There is no Republican challenger, so Johnson will be sworn in next January.

– Rep. Betty Brown, best known for her inability to handle Asian names, lost. That’s good. Rep. Tommy Merritt of Longview, who had faced primary challenges every cycle this decade for his opposition to Tom Craddick and other acts of heresy, also lost. That’s not good. Rep. Delwin Jones is in a runoff. On the Democratic side, Reps. Dora Olivo of Fort Bend and Tara Rios Ybarra of South Padre Island lost, and Rep. Norma Chavez of El Paso is in a runoff. Go click those Trib links for more.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll post links to more coverage later as I see them.

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More legislative primaries

Freshman State Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra, who knocked off veteran Rep. Juan Escobar in the 2008 Democratic primary, will have a primary opponent of her own.

Kingsville businessman J.M. Lozano, aged 29, announced via a video on Facebook and You Tube that he has a “passion and burning desire in my heart to bring South Texas what it deserves.”

Click here to view the You Tube commentary.

Lozano is the owner of a restaurant franchise. He has a Bachelors degree in Government from the University of Texas at Austin and a Masters degree in Administration from the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio. He has previously served in Congressman Rubén Hinojosa’s office in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I am proud to have been born and raised in rural South Texas. South Texas gave me a good education, strong family values, honesty, and integrity. It showed me to cherish the simple things in life and to remain grounded in reality. South Texas gave me my voice but my voice will always belong to South Texas,” Lozano said, in his commentary on You Tube.

Rios Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, won election in 2008, defeating incumbent Rep. Juan Escobar of Kingsville in the Democratic primary and token opposition in the general election. Lozano is expected to receive the endorsement of Escobar.

[…]

In his interview with the Guardian, Lozano said he is a “moderate” and “fiscally conservative” Democrat. However, he said that as someone who was born and raised in rural South Texas, he knows the region needs investment because it can no longer rely just on oil and gas. “You need to know your community and its needs, whether it has a population of 5,000 or 500 and I do,” Lozano said.

Asked if he was concerned that the Austin lobby money would likely flow to the incumbent, Lozano said, no. “Her money is largely from Republicans and she is beholden to Republicans. For her to hijack a party label and to tell people she is a Democrat, that is misleading,” Lozano said.

I supported Escobar and opposed Ybarra in 2008 because it was widely presumed that Ybarra had the backing of Tom Craddick. As things happened, that wound up being a moot point. I don’t know enough about how Ybarra did in her first session, or about Lozano, to have an opinion at this point, though I’m glad that any Speaker-related issues will have to do with whether or not the Dems get a majority, and not with the disposition of Tom Craddick. Link via BOR.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Betty Brown will have her hands full as well. Vince quotes from Capitol Inside and Quorum Report with various names, and notes that the Asian Political Leadership Fund is considering going all in to defeat Brown; they have a TV commercial ready to air already. They haven’t decided whether to aim for the primary or the general yet; the primary is likely the better bet as Brown’s HD4 is pretty solidly red, but perhaps a strong Democrat can mount a serious challenge if he or she has enough resources.

UPDATE: Burka has more on Lozano and Rios Ybarra.

Special session starts tomorrow

The special session everyone knew was coming to address the disposition of several state agencies begins tomorrow. So far, at least, the agenda hasn’t changed from the original call.

Gov. Rick Perry is being pressed to add issues ranging from children’s health care to voter identification to the agenda of the special session that begins Wednesday, but his answer is still no.

Perry, a Republican, made clear when he called the session last week that he wants lawmakers to take just a few days to complete must-do business left undone in the regular session, then be gone.

He hasn’t changed his mind, spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said Monday: “The governor has already announced what will be addressed during the special session and at this time doesn’t have any intentions to expand the call.”

“At this time” certainly leaves wiggle room for him. There have been plenty of other bills filed for the session in the event the Governor uses that wiggle room, including a CHIP expansion provision that already has majority support in the House. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t have is Perry’s support, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. As for voter ID, the best assurance we’ve got right now is this sentiment:

Rep. Betty Brown, R-Athens, said she has asked Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus for a commitment to address voter ID in the special session.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said he hasn’t – and won’t – ask Perry to add the issue: “I want to get in here and get it over with and get back home.”

Amen to that. House Speaker Joe Straus has a vision for how that will happen.

[Monday], three House bills [were] pre-filed that correspond to Gov. Rick Perry’s agenda: The Sunset scheduling bill for the transportation, insurance, racing and two smaller agencies; authorization of $2 billion in transportation bonds and creation of the Texas Transportation Revolving Fund, and extension of comprehensive development agreements to build roads.

On Wednesday, the Legislature will convene at 10 a.m. Those House bills will promptly be assigned to three House committees — Appropriations, State Affairs and Transportation— for the required public hearings.

On Thursday, the House is expected to have its first calendar for consideration. Committees are expected to have approved the bills the previous day, if everything goes on schedule.

On Friday, “if it is the will of the members to do so, we will conclude our business.”

According to the Straus memo, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, will author the transportation bond bill; state Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, chairman of the Sunset Advisory Bill, will carry the Sunset bill, and Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, will carry the so-called CDA bill.

To expedite the three-day express schedule, a special briefing for House members and their staffs will be held at 1:30 Tuesday in the Capitol Auditorium to answer questions about the bills.

The question is what happens if one item on the call doesn’t get swift approval?

arried a bill that would have extended by six years the legal authority for TxDOT and regional mobility authorities to sign what have usually been 50-year contracts with private companies to build and operate (and profit from) tollways on public land. Authority for such leases expires Sept. 1.

The general understanding was that the legislation’s final passage was dependent on approval of a separate bill by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, that would put limits on such contracts. Both bills passed the House and Senate, either with their original bill numbers or as part of the main TxDOT bill that died late in the session.

The question is, will that linkage still be the case in the special session? Nichols said Monday that it had better be, or the toll road item could end up in the ditch.

“I feel very strongly about it, and so do many” other senators, Nichols said.

Carona said Monday that he could see eliminating at least some of what Nichols had in mind if a toll road lease extension were passed that applied to only a handful of projects for which officials have already decided who — TxDOT or local toll authorities — will be in charge of the projects. That list reportedly includes extending the Texas 130 tollway north from Georgetown to Hillsboro, building the new Interstate 69 from south of Refugio to the Rio Grande Valley and adding toll lanes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

However, even in those cases, Carona said, “you’d have to have at least put some protections in there.”

[…]

So, what would Perry do if something close to [Nichols’ bill] were attached to the extension legislation in the special session? Some officials said that such an amendment could be determined to be outside the scope of Perry’s call. Nichols disagrees with that.

Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said Perry’s staff is talking with Nichols’ office to discuss his concerns.

Carona said, “One source in the governor’s office indicated that any bill that contained the Nichols language would be vetoed. Another said that’s not necessarily so.”

Yes, well, we know how good Perry’s staff is at communicating the Governor’s intentions in these matters. I feel reassured, don’t you?

Smith caves in to the Browns

No surprise, really.

Rep. Todd Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Elections, confirmed today he’s intending to have the committee vote Monday on a voter ID plan.

The twist: Smith is backing off his attempts to rewrite the plan.

Bowing to a request from two GOP colleagues, Smith simply intends to seek the committee’s approval of the Senate-approved version of Senate Bill 362.

Presuming the five Republicans on the committee stick together, this means that barring unforeseen hang-ups, a clean version of the Senate plan will ultimately be taken up on the House floor.

The colleagues, Reps. Betty Brown of Terrell and Linda Harper-Brown of Irving, had resisted Smith’s attempts to rewrite the Senate bill.

Well, we can’t say we weren’t warned. If there are any unforeseen hang-ups, the bill is dead, since Monday is the deadline for passing bills out of House committees. Which doesn’t mean it couldn’t be inserted as an amendment somewhere, of course, so even if it dies one way or another – has anyone talked to Reps. Tommy Merritt or Delwin Jones lately? – it’s not truly dead until sine die and the threat of a special session passes.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, the Monday deadline is for House bills, so SB362 would be exempt from that. So I daresay the best hope is for it to not pass on the House floor.

The Speaker speaks, and a Voter ID update

So how is Speaker Joe Straus doing?

Three months into his first term leading the 150-member chamber, Republican Speaker Joe Straus is emerging as a bipartisan compromise-seeker, rejecting much of the power that his predecessor so coveted.

Straus still faces some tough tests, but just four years after Craddick was anointed as the most powerful Texan by Texas Monthly magazine, observers say the young GOP leader has shifted power back to the House.

“Not some, probably all,” said Rep. Tommy Merritt, a Longview Republican when asked if the speaker has given up some of the office’s power. “He’s doing exactly what a good speaker should do. He’s wielding the gavel and trying to make fair rulings to make the will of the House work for Texas.”

Straus’ first big victory came last week when the normally raucous House unanimously approved the $178 billion budget. It was the first time in a decade that the usually thorny state budget came out with 149-0 approval.

In a rare sit-down, on-the-record interview with The Associated Press, Straus said the unanimous vote was the result of weeks of negotiations and compromise.

“No one, right or left, Republican or Democrat, urban or rural, is going to crush somebody by sheer force this session,” said Straus, the state’s first Jewish speaker.

I’d say that’s a fair interpretation. As I’ve said before, Straus hasn’t been exactly what I’d hoped for in a non-Tom Craddick Speaker, but he’s still a lot better than Tom Craddick. The House has been remarkably free of strife, and more importantly it’s been completely free of attempts by the Speaker to impose his will on everything in his path. That’s as much a function of the near-even split as anything else, but the point is that Craddick couldn’t have managed under those conditions; he would have been what he has always been. The House would have been a disaster area with him in charge.

Of course, there’s still a lot of time left, and at least one big stinking partisan blob of an “issue” that remains unresolved.

Lately, Straus has been working to forge a compromise on an effort to strengthen voter identification requirements, a measure so divisive it sparked partisan meltdown in the Senate and triggered threats of lawsuits.

The legislation is expected to be debated by the House within the next couple of weeks. But by many accounts, a House compromise is on the horizon. Unlike the Senate, Straus said, the House wasn’t going to “pull the pin on the grenade and be irresponsible, which I think they were.”

“They just didn’t care about the consequences of the emotional side of it,” he said. “And we’re trying to be deliberate and slow … we’re trying to find solutions, not just talking points for somebody’s political agenda.”

Rep. Aaron Pena writes that voter ID could be on the agenda for the Elections Committee as early as tomorrow, with some kind of compromise voter ID bill to be debated. That’s assuming that the whole thing doesn’t get blown up by the Republican hardcore, as documented by Gardner Selby:

I’m hearing from Capitol sources that Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, privately told GOP colleagues today he’d reached closure on his intended-to-be-a-compromise version of voter ID legislation and might even issue an afternoon press release saying so.

To which, some Republicans reportedly reacted: “Whoa, Nelly (or Toddy).”

Their beef: They’d prefer not to see Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Elections, running out a softened-up approach that they don’t think meets the intended ID mandate.

True, it’d be a painful political boomerang for Republicans to see House Democrats (on the short end of the 76-74 House split between the parties) wrest control of the GOP’s most-valued legislative proposal (though the flip side, perhaps fueling Smith’s hunt for common ground, is that if the Senate-approved version of voter ID isn’t tweaked, he could fall short of getting the proposal out of his committee or off the House floor; tough cookies).

Until Smith speaks out (yup, I’ve tried to reach him), I’m left with separate statements from Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, who takes a hard line on the voter ID front, and from 51 House Republicans (including Brown) similarly saying they’re not interested in phasing in changes or making it easier for most anyone to vote without presenting proof of their identity.

GOP blow-up? I’m waiting to hear more.

For what it’s worth, Rep. Smith says it was all sweetness and light when he addressed the caucus about his bill. Sure it was. I can’t think of a better resolution to this mess than a GOP implosion as no bill gets passed because the hardliners refuse to accept a compromise, while their version fails to get enough votes. Nothing could illustrate the point that this is all just a naked partisan power grab than that. Form a circle, Republicans, and load up those AK-47s! We’ll start popping the popcorn now.

Perry walks back secession talk

As the sun rises in the east, so do politicians who say stupid things revise and extend those remarks afterward when people start asking them questions about what they really meant. And so it was the case with Rick Perry, who insisted to reporters that he didn’t actually mean it when he said that Texas might look to secede if we got fed up enough with Washington, whatever that means. It might have been nice if the reporters had pressed him a bit more about the crowd to whom he made his initial statements, who were chanting “Secede! Secede!” in agreement with what they sure as heck thought he was saying, but I suppose you can’t have everything. Regardless, Democratic leaders such as Jim Dunnam and Rodney Ellis and gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer have rightly jumped on Perry for his idiocy, and I hope more will join in. (Anyone heard from Kinky Friedman on this?) It’d be nice if a few Republicans expressed some concern about making such intemperate statements, at least the ones who haven’t been busy making their own. Needless to say, I’m not holding my breath.

Of the many things that bother me about this, I think it’s the fact that once again a Texas Republican has made national news in a way that disgraces the state and makes us look like a bunch of rubes and fools. It’s been a nonstop parade of idiocy this year – Sharon Keller, the SBOE clown show, Louie Gohmert, Betty Brown, and now Rick Perry. I realize that there’s a lot of people who don’t care what others think about us, indeed who consider it a badge of honor to be looked down upon by the rest of the country and the world, but nothing good can come out of this. We can be as business-friendly a state as we want to be, but if people don’t want to relocate here because they’ve had such a negative impression of the place because of stunts like these it won’t do us any good. Exceptionalism isn’t necessarily an asset.

Most of all, I can’t believe I have to say any of this. Secession, for Christ’s sake. Because some people are unhappy that they lost an election. Remember how a bunch of celebrities whined to the press in 2000 and again in 2004 that they’d leave the country if Bush won? Remember how we all thought they were jackasses for saying that? Remember how Republicans in particular piled on them for their knavery? Boy, those sure were the days.

Perry says “Look at me!”

In advance of yesterday’s teabag-a-rama, Governor Rick Perry made a successful ploy for a little national attention.

WAKE UP CALL: TEXAS GOV. BACK RESOLUTION AFFIRMING SOVEREIGNTY
Tue Apr 14 2009 08:44:54 ET

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry joined state Rep. Brandon Creighton and sponsors of House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 50 in support of states’ rights under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state,” Gov. Perry said. “That is why I am here today to express my unwavering support for efforts all across our country to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I believe that returning to the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution and its essential 10th Amendment will free our state from undue regulations, and ultimately strengthen our Union.”

Perry continued: “Millions of Texans are tired of Washington, DC trying to come down here to tell us how to run Texas.”

Except for all that stimulus money that Perry cordially accepted to “promote economic growth and create jobs” (PDF) that we’re now mostly using to protect the Rainy Day Fund and to pay for our property tax cuts this biennium. We like that stuff. Oh, and we’ve only just noticed things like the expansion of the federal government and the deficit and stuff like that – we didn’t pay any attention to it before.

Actually, let me just quote The Texas Blue here:

“Unfortunately, the protections it guarantees have melted away over the course of the years…”

Governor Rick Perry, five days ago: Governor Perry Calls FEMA To Assist With Wildfires

Governor Rick Perry, last month: Governor Perry Calls For 1,000 Troops To Be Sent To Border

Governor Rick Perry, five months ago: Governor Perry Requests 18 Month Extension Of Federal Aid For Ike Debris Removal

It looks to me like the only thing that has melted away over the course of the years is any sense of decency or shame that Republicans like Governor Perry may have had at some point in their lives.

Makes you wonder who he’ll call on for help when we secede. In any event, HCR50, which is one step up legislatively from things like birthday greetings, isn’t actual legislation but a bunch of “Whereas”es followed by a couple of “Be it resolved”s – you know, like a petition – that usually gets filed and forgotten. You’d think there’d be more pressing business to attend to at this point of the session, but then you’re not Rick Perry. All I can say is that if his goal was to distract the national media from Betty Brown, or (God help us all) to draw attention to himself as a potential Republican nominee for President in 2012, he succeeded.

Dems versus Vasquez

Looks like we’re not ready to make nice with the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office over their handling of voter registration last year.

Any honeymoon between Democrats and the new Harris County voter registrar ended suddenly today.

Democratic state Reps. Garnet Coleman and Ana Hernandez of Houston said Leo Vasquez, who is tax assessor-collector and voter registration chief, is responsible for staffers who allegedly misled state legislators considering whether to require voters to offer more proof of identification before casting ballots.

“It is up to (Vasquez) to clean up his office,” Coleman and Hernandez said in a news media handout. “Otherwise, Leo needs to go.”

[…]

Vasquez, saying he is running the registration agency without regard to politics and will not join the GOP frontlines, since has expanded voter registration efforts and hired a Democrat to help with community outreach.

He said today that testimony in Austin last week on the “voter ID” bill by voter registration staffers George Hammerlein and Ed Johnson was no partisan move. The pair, called to testify by Republican lawmakers, took no position on the bill and provided facts as requested, Vasquez said.

Coleman and Hernandez never have taken their concerns to him, Vasquez said, and they owe his staffers an apology for making baseless allegations.

The Democrats today zeroed in on Hammerlein’s legislative testimony, several hours into hearing that ran past midnight, that thousands of Harris County residents who registered to vote on time were not eligible to participate in early voting two weeks later because they applied relatively late.

Hammerlein acknowledged today that his statement was wrong and said it was due to the strange hour rather than any attempt to mislead the Legislature.

I’ve reprinted the press release beneath the fold, and a copy of the doc that spelled out the allegations against Hammerlein and Johnson is here. I’ve been hearing some grumbling about the way things have been run at the Tax Assessor’s office, in particular complaints about being told that deputy registrars could not deliver new registration forms to annex offices. That turned out to be a case of miscommunication between the head office and the annexes. Perhaps that’s to be expected with a change in command, but it wasn’t a good first impression and it didn’t help alleviate any of the lingering mistrust left over from the Bettencourt days. It’s not surprising, given the stakes in the voter ID fight, that Vasquez isn’t being cut any slack. Stace has more.

Meanwhile, immigration attorney and former Houston City Council member Gordon Quan has an op-ed about voter ID and the Betty Brown incident.

While some will argue that this increases the integrity of the ballot, in reality, voter ID requirements have been overwhelmingly shown to disproportionately disenfranchise older Americans, individuals with disabilities, low income and homeless people, students, married women, minorities and most poignantly, those who, for cultural reasons, may have differing names on differing identification documents. According to the nation’s largest exit poll of Asian Americans, nearly 70 percent of Asian voters were asked for ID at the polls — in states where no ID was required!

Voter ID requirements put an inordinate amount of discretion in the hands of already overworked poll workers. Our state and county election offices already find themselves constantly struggling to find the resources to adequately train poll workers and to recruit diverse poll workers who are versed in every possible cultural circumstance that they may encounter. This legislation would take precious funds away from those programs as well as from real priorities such as transportation and education. As evidenced by this episode with Brown and the Elections Committee, even individuals as well versed in the law as they are were unable to understand the complexities associated with Asian names as they relate to voting. Just imagine the difficulty a poll worker would have and how they could easily not allow an eligible voter even with a valid voter registration card to vote.

If you want to discuss this issue in more detail, there will be a conference call Thursday night with Ramey Ko, US Rep. Mike Honda, State Rep. Hubert Vo, Mini Timmaraju of the Asian American Democrats of Texas, and others. The AAA Fund blog has the details. You can submit a question for Ramey Ko ahead of time, but you must RSVP to join the call, so click over for the info if you’re interested.

UPDATE: Vince has more on Hammerlein’s testimony.

The Onion takes on Betty Brown

I suppose this was inevitable, given how low the fruit was hanging. But now that we’ve had all this fun at Rep. Betty Brown’s expense, I’ve got to agree with David Mauro in that this has largely served to reinforce negative stereotypes of Texas and Texans around the world. So for being this session’s Al Edwards, may I just say to Betty Brown: “Thanks a hell of a lot”.

More Ramey Ko

KXAN’s Jenny Hoff has a really good interview with Ramey Ko about last week’s Betty Brown incident. She gets into some depth about why Rep. Brown’s dumb remarks are problematic and how it all relates to voter ID, and includes a clip from “Saturday Night Live” that makes fun of Rep. Brown as well. Check it out.

Ramey Ko speaks

The Asian American Action Fund blog talks to Ramey Ko about the Betty Brown incident, and also about her apology, which wasn’t particularly well received by the Asian American community. There’s a lot more coverage of this story, which has gone global, at the AAA Fund. Check it out.

Rep. Brown’s apology

In case you missed it, here’s State Rep. Betty Brown’s apology for her dumb remarks about Asian names.

Answering a swarm of phone calls during a brief break on the House floor, Rep. Betty Brown , R-Terrell, kept telling reporters she was misunderstood.

“I never meant they should change their names,” said Rep. Brown.

[…]

[Ramey] Ko confirmed that Brown’s office called him after the Texas Democratic Party cried foul. Brown said she had called Ko to apologize.

“We’re ready to work with any of these people who are having problems and have them educate us on anything that might be going on that we’re unaware of,” said Brown.

There’s video at that link as well. One way that Rep. Brown could make good on that promise and show that her apology was sincere would be to get behind HB1457 by Rep. Scott Hochberg, which is currently pending in the Elections Committee on which Rep. Brown sits. The bill states, in part:

SECTION 1. Chapter 11, Election Code is amended by adding Section 11.0005 to read as follows: Sec. 11.0005. GENERAL POLICY REGARDING ELIGIBILITY. It is the policy of this state that no qualified citizen shall be denied the right to vote due to governmental clerical errors or due to technical defects on an applicant’s voter registration application as long as the information on the application demonstrates that the citizen is qualified to vote.

In other words, just because some clerk somewhere got confused about how someone’s name is spelled, or over the fact that some people are legitimately known by more than one name, doesn’t mean someone who is eligible to vote cannot vote. That would go a long way, I think. Heck, just imagine how many people here in Harris County would have benefited from having this in place last year. What do you say, Betty?

Anyway. There’s not much point at this time in trying to round up more links about this, since you pretty much can’t read a blog today and not stumble across some reference to the story. I will point out the Asian American Action Fund blog, which has a couple of statements, the former from the Asian-American Democrats of Texas and the latter from New York City Council Member John Liu, that are worth reading. Maybe, just maybe, this incident will make a few people realize what the opposition to voter ID has been about, and we can keep something bad from happening when the House takes up the matter. I’m going to hope so, anyway.

UPDATE: OK, here is one more link worth your time, from MOMocrats.

UPDATE: One more statement, from the gressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: More reactions to Brown from around the country.

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What’s in a name, Betty Brown style

You know, I was just thinking the other day that what this legislative session was lacking was a dose of absurdity. Thank God for people like State Rep. Betty Brown.

A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.”

The comments caused the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday to demand an apology from state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. But a spokesman for Brown said her comments were only an attempt to overcome problems with identifying Asian names for voting purposes.

The exchange occurred late Tuesday as the House Elections Committee heard testimony from Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Ko told the committee that people of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent often have problems voting and other forms of identification because they may have a legal transliterated name and then a common English name that is used on their driver’s license on school registrations.

Brown suggested that Asian-Americans should find a way to make their names more accessible.

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

Brown later told Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”

Just so we’re all clear here, Rep. Brown is one of the voter ID pushers, who has already tried to attach a voter ID bill as an amendment to an unrelated bill. There’s no particular reason I can see to give her much benefit of the doubt. BOR has video of the exchange as well as the substantive response to this. Miya, whose name I’ve always found pretty easy to deal with, says “Imagine telling a Polish American that his name needs a few extra vowels, just to make it easier to pronounce”. Speaking as someone whose mother’s name was Abbruzza, which is a shortened from Abbruzzese, I can relate to that.

Having dealt with the serious, let me now join in with the mockery, of which there has been plenty. (If you click on only one of those links, make it the last one so you can see what your official Betty Brown American Name is. Mine is Roy “Cracker Barrel” Brown.) See, the problem with Betty’s suggestion is that it didn’t go far enough. Why stop at just Asian names? There’s plenty of so-called American names that are too hard for people to deal with and thus get screwed up all the time. I want to see someone introduce a bill that will enforce a little standardization on names. Like “Katherine” for example – is it spelled with a C or a K? And is that second vowel supposed to be an A or an E? How do you expect poll workers to verify people’s identity if we don’t even know how to spell a common name like that? And that’s just the beginning – don’t get me started on “Kristin/Kristen”, “Stuart/Stewart”, “Mark/Marc”, “Sara/Sarah” – the list goes on and on. Only you can save us, Betty! Assuming that’s “Betty” with a Y and not “Bettie” with an IE, or – God help me – “Bettye” with a YE. You can’t be too sure these days.

UPDATE: Here’s a nice link roundup from the Asian American Action Fund blog.

UPDATE: Still more from Martha, Stace, and Letters from Texas.

UPDATE: Rep. Brown apologizes.

Let the shenanigans begin!

Boy, we only thought voter ID would not be brought up in the House till next week. Apparently, Rep. Betty Brown tried to attach a voter ID bill she has pending in its entirity to HB71, an otherwise fairly innocuous bill “relating to the establishment of a program to provide a ballot by electronic mail to military personnel serving overseas and their spouses and dependents residing overseas”. The amendment was not germane to the bill caption and would likely have been knocked out on a point of order, but in the end the amendment was withdrawn and the fight was saved for another day. As Burka notes, don’t expect this to be the only time such a maneuver is attempted. One way or another, the Republicans will do everything in their power to push this through, even as Elections Chair Todd Smith tries to strike a conciliatory tone. All of which is makes the Heflin plan seem that much less crazy.