Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Bexar County

Ortiz Jones requests more time for provisional ballots

She did not succeed, however.

Gina Ortiz Jones

A Bexar County judge denied a request by Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who trails incumbent Republican Will Hurd by a few hundred votes in the race for the most competitive congressional district in Texas, to extend by 48 hours the deadline to make official provisional ballots.

Jones, who is vying to represent Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which spans West Texas from the east side of El Paso to the west side of San Antonio, filed the motion in an effort to close the gap between her and Hurd in one of the most closely watched races in the midterm elections.

A week after Election Day, Jones said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen had not made public the list of provisional voters in the race, making it difficult for voters to ensure their ballots officially counted.

“We’ve had issues in Bexar County providing information that should be a matter of public record,” Jones said in a news conference. “This includes the list of folks that voted via provisional ballot.”

Jones said her campaign won an order from Bexar County Judge Rosie Alvarado on Monday night to force the county’s elections administrator to turn over the list of provisional voters. Tuesday morning, Jones said the county had not done that and her team had filed another complaint in county court to compel the elections administrator to do so. Jones’ team filed an emergency court motion Tuesday asking for a 48-hour extension for the 5 p.m. deadline to make provisional ballots official.

“This is about making sure that every vote is counted,” Jones said.

That motion was denied Tuesday by Bexar County Judge Stephani Walsh, meaning that county election officials will only have to work with the provisional ballots that had been validated by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Military ballots from overseas would be accepted until 7 p.m. The county will continue to tally those votes in the following days.

See here for the background and here for a copy of the motion. I guess we’ll find out provisional votes have been accepted will be added into the count – as noted yesterday, the Bexar County count added a few votes to Ortiz Jones’ total, but not enough to make it look like she had a serious chance of catching up. The race is close enough that there will probably be a recount, but in the end I expect the result as it stands now will be affirmed. The Rivard Report has more.

CD23 update

Today is the last day to cure a provisional ballot. In the meantime, the counting goes on in the closest Texas Congressional race.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Election officials in 29 Texas counties are furiously counting outstanding votes in the Congressional District 23 election, in which Republican Rep. Will Hurd holds a narrow lead with at least 859 ballots outstanding.

Hurd, a two-term incumbent, thought he had a comfortable win Tuesday night, when the Associated Press called the race for him around 11 p.m.

But the contest tightened in the early morning hours Wednesday, and it appeared — for a half-hour — that Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones had pulled off an upset.

Then the lead changed hands again, and the state’s unofficial results showed Hurd winning by 689 votes. Later Wednesday, a tabulation error in Jones’ favor was discovered in Culberson County. Once the error was corrected, Hurd’s margin had increased to 1,150 votes — out of more than 200,000 cast.

[…]

On Friday, Bexar County — which accounts for more than half the votes in the district — updated its tally to reflect 446 ballots counted since election night. Hurd received 183, Jones 253 and Libertarian candidate Ruben Corvalan 10.

Jones gained a net 70 votes, reducing Hurd’s overall margin to 1,080.

Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said there’s been a steady stream of lawyers and campaign workers at the county’s Elections Department asking questions about the uncounted ballots.

“We haven’t seen so many lawyers in here since forever,” she said.

At least 859 ballots are still outstanding, according to county elections officials across the district, but it’s unclear how many will ultimately be included in the final count.

See here for some background. The SOS still shows Hurd with a 1,150 vote lead, but as you can see the Bexar County elections page shows more votes counted, so the SOS page is a bit out of date. Ortiz Jones is pushing for more information about the provisional voters, though Bexar County officials say they’re just following the rules about what can and cannot be disclosed at this time. I still don’t expect there the be enough uncounted votes to make it likely that she could catch up, but we’ll know soon enough.

In the meantime, the HD138 and HD108 races remain in contention, while Gina Calanni’s lead in HD132 has increased to 97 votes. Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan put out a statement yesterday about the HD108 race that included this curious bit:

One of the hold-ups is caused by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Though Texas law allows people to register to vote when renewing their drivers license, the DMV is notorious for sitting on these registrations and failing to turn them in to the election department of the counties in which they operate. Without this documentation, the local election departments are unable to determine if certain provisional ballots should be counted. In Dallas County, it is estimated that approximately 1,000 provisional ballots are being held, pending the documentation from the DMV. This number is significantly higher than the number of votes that separate the candidates in House District 108.

Not really sure what to make of that, but as I said, we should at least get some official numbers by the end of the day today. Stay tuned.

The CD23 race isn’t quite over yet

I believe it is highly unlikely that the outcome in CD23 will change from the current close win for Rep. Will Hurd, but we are not done counting the votes just yet.

Gina Ortiz Jones

The Texas congressional race between incumbent Republican Will Hurd and Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones is still too close to call following a dramatic overnight in which Ortiz Jones pulled ahead, Hurd pulled back on top, and news outlets across the nation retracted their projections.

On Wednesday morning in Congressional District 23, the state’s only consistent battleground district, Hurd was leading Ortiz Jones by 689 votes, with all precincts counted.

“This election is not over—every vote matters,” said Noelle Rosellini, a spokesperson for Ortiz Jones. “We won’t stop working until every provisional ballot, absentee ballot, and military or overseas ballot has been counted.”

She did not mention the possibility of a recount, although Ortiz Jones’ campaign is well within the margin to do so in Texas. (According to state law, the difference in votes between the top two finishers must be less than 10 percent of the winner’s total votes — in this case, about 10,000.)

But that did not keep Hurd from declaring victory. “I’m proud to have won another tough reelection in the 23rd Congressional District of Texas,” he said in a statement on Wednesday morning, noting that he would be the only Texas Republican to keep his seat in a district carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

[…]

Many news outlets, including The Texas Tribune, called the race for Hurd late on Tuesday evening, with Hurd declaring victory on Twitter and in person to his supporters at a watch party in San Antonio as Ortiz Jones conceded defeat across town.

“While it didn’t shake out the way we would want, we ran a campaign that we are proud of and that really reflected Texas values,” Ortiz Jones said at her campaign headquarters, according to the San Antonio News-Express. Her campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But as more vote totals kept coming in, she surpassed Hurd by a margin of fewer than 300 votes with all precincts reporting. Early on Wednesday morning, news organizations withdrew their call of the race and Hurd deleted a tweet saying he won.

But vote totals from the last of eight Medina County precincts were inputted incorrectly — they had left out about 4000 votes when first entering totals. The fixed results put Hurd just over Ortiz Jones by a margin of fewer than 700 votes.

See here for some background. The current tally has Hurd up by 1,150 votes now, out of 209,058 votes cast. Apparently, a second county erred in how they initially reported their results, in a way that had inflated Ortiz Jones’ total. Late-arriving mail and provisional ballots still need to be counted, though usually there are not that many of them. I’d like to see a more thorough review of what exactly happened in Medina County, but beyond that I don’t think there’s much joy to be found here.

This race was a bit confounding well before any votes came in. The NYT/Siena College live polls had Hurd up by eight points in September and a whopping fifteen points in October. The NRCC pulled out around the time early voting started, presumably from a feeling of confidence in the race, then a lot of late money poured in, presumably in response to the off-the-charts turnout. I had faith this would be a close race, as it always is, but I had no idea what to make of all this.

In the end, the story of this race appears to come down to found counties. Compare the 2018 results to the 2016 results, in which Hurd defeated Pete Gallego in a rematch by about 3000 votes, and you see this:

– In Bexar County, Ortiz Jones improved on Gallego’s performance by 5000 votes, while Hurd received about 4500 votes less than he did in 2016. In theory, that should have been more than enough to win her the race.

– However, in El Paso, Maverick, and Val Verde counties, Hurd got nearly identical vote totals as he had in 2016, while Ortiz Jones underperformed Gallego by 3000, 2500, and 1200 votes, respectively. That was enough to put Hurd back into positive territory.

There was some float in the other counties, but these four told the main story. Both candidates had slightly lower vote totals than in 2016, and indeed Ortiz Jones got a larger share of the Gallego vote than 2018 Hurd did of 2016 Hurd. It just wasn’t quite enough.

Projecting Tuesday turnout

Here’s the statewide view.

By the time the polls closed Thursday, 33.7 percent of registered voters in Bexar County had voted, well past the 17.3 percent turnout at the same point in 2014, the last midterm, and close to the presidential-year turnout recorded at the same point in 2012 and 2016.

And Bexar County’s election officials are not alone in having a lot to high-five each other about. Turnout during early voting in the state’s 30 largest counties easily surpassed the entire turnout – during the early voting period and on Election Day – of the 2014 midterm and continues to race toward the turnout seen in presidential election years.

In Harris County, the state’s largest county, 32.3 percent of registered voters had voted by the end of Thursday, compared to 15.5 percent at the same point in 2014. In Dallas County, the number was 35.1 percent, compared to 15.2 percent at the same point in 2014. Early voting turnout in Travis County had already surpassed total early voter turnout in both the 2014 midterm and the 2012 presidential election by the end of Thursday.

“We’ve got a lot of unhappy and activist voters out there who have been wanting to vote for a long time,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County clerk. She attributed the bump in the number of voters to President Donald Trump.

She said voter turnout dipped slightly earlier in the week, as is often the case, but that the numbers quickly rebounded toward the end of the week, which she said will help alleviate some traffic on Election Day.

[…]

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said that the “blockbuster” turnout seen during early voting this year sets a new bar for future elections.

“It’s clear that much of the future of Texas will be fought in suburban Texas,” Rottinghaus said.

He said counties like Collin, Denton, Montgomery and Williamson saw a greater number of Democrats turning up to vote than in previous elections. That doesn’t mean that Democrats are going to win those counties, he said, but it does mean that they have become much more competitive.

“On one hand, suburban Texas is now younger and more ethnically diverse, replacing the first generation which is middle age and white” Rottinghaus said. “And Donald Trump and some of the inflammatory rhetoric have really caused a lack of interest among Republican women and college-educated voters in the suburbs.”

Rottinghaus said statewide Hispanic turnout is up slightly from 2014, which he said is “good but not great for Democrats.” While it looked like Democrats were doing better than Republicans in border counties early on in early voting, he said that it now looks like Republican voters are turning up in larger numbers.

“It’s not the groundswell that Democrats had hoped for,” Rottinghaus said.

The same story applies to young voters, Rottinghaus said. Although more young voters turned out in 2018 than in 2014, he said the 2016 presidential year still has both of the midterm years beat.

“This seems to show that younger voters, although inspired by an electric O’Rourke campaign, still need that push of a president at the top of the ticket to turn out,” Rottinghaus said.

I think what we’re going to get is going to be somewhere between 2008/2012 turnout, and 2016 turnout, which is the current high-water mark. The main question here is how many people who are going to vote have already voted. In previous off-year elections, a bit more than half of the vote – around 55% – is cast early. In Presidential years, the share of the early vote is higher, with that number spiking up in 2016. I’ll show the details later, but for now I’ll say this feels more like a Presidential year, but not exactly like one. As such, I think we’ll still see a decent number of voters on Tuesday, but for sure the bulk of the vote has already been cast.

Here are the Friday/final totals, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  52,112  392,536  462,527
2014  67,967  307,280  375,247
2018  89,098  766,613  855,711

2008  52,502  678,312  754,499
2012  66,310  700,216  766,526
2016  94,699  882,580  977,279

About where I thought we’d end up, though the potential was there for a bit more. I think the bad weather on Wednesday prevented some people from voting, with some of them shifting to Thursday or Friday and some of them still needing to vote. Here are a range of outcomes for final turnout based on what we’ve seen so far:

855,711 at 65% = 1,316,478
855,711 at 67% = 1,277,180
855,711 at 70% = 1,222,444
855,711 at 73% = 1,172,206
855,711 at 75% = 1,140,980

2008 EV = 63.5%
2012 EV = 63.7%
2016 EV = 73.0%

In other words, in 2008 and 2012 a bit more than 63% of the vote was cast early, while in 2016 that amount was 73 percent. My best guess, based entirely on gut feel, is that we’ll fall in the middle of that this year, which will put us in the 1.2 million range, or about the total for 2008 and 2012. It could still go higher or lower from there, and in the end the range of possibility is about 200K votes. The weather should be good on Tuesday, so at least there won’t be any nature-induced barriers.

One last thing to think about. In 2016, the top Republican votegetter was Tracy Christopher, who was running for the 14th Court of Appeals, with 621,960 votes, followed by Debra Ibarra Mayfield, running for the 165th District Court, with 621,060. The smallest number of votes any Democrat received who was on the ballot for everyone in the county was 610,648 by Grady Yarbrough, running for Railroad Commissioner. Most Republican judicial candidates, including all of the statewide judicials other than Eva Guzman and all of the courts of appeals candidates other than Christopher and Sherry Radack, failed to top Yarbrough’s total. If turnout really is 1.2 million or above, you tell me where the Republicans are going to get the votes to win Harris County.

Distributing the VW settlement money

Good for some, less good for others.

Texas cities will soon get millions of dollars to help clean up air quality, but Houston officials say the plan for distributing all that money isn’t fair.

The money is coming from a settlement in the Volkswagen (VW) emissions cheating scandal. Local governments will be able to use the money to reduce emissions from their vehicles and other equipment.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) plans to give the biggest chunk of the money – more than $73 million – to the San Antonio area, mainly because that city is closer than others to getting in line with federal pollution rules it’s currently violating.

Under the state’s plan, the Houston area, which has worse air quality, would get about $27 million.

The City of Houston says about a quarter of the cheating VW cars that were in Texas were driving in the Houston region.

“So we deserve at least a quarter of those funds, because we’re the ones that were harmed,” said Kris Banks, a government relations assistant with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office.

See here, here, and here for some background. Mayor Turner expressed his disenchantment with the amount allocated to Houston in a press release; you can see all of the city’s documentation on the matter here. The full TCEQ plan for the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust is here, or you can save yourself some time and read the Texas Vox summary of it. The TCEQ is still accepting feedback on the draft plan through October 8, so send them an email at VWsettle@tceq.texas.gov if you have comments. The Rivard Report has more.

We really need to replace our crappy old voting machines

This is embarrassing.

Local election administrators in Texas are eager to replace voting machines purchased more than a decade ago in time for the 2020 presidential election. Increasingly susceptible to malfunctions, upkeep for the aging machines can exceed $300,000 annually in the biggest counties. Election experts have also raised security concerns about the paperless electronic devices used in most of the state.

The little help Congress has offered comes in the form of recent funding that will be used for cyber updates and training, not voting machines. And state leaders have shown no interest in chipping in, even as scrutiny over the security of the country’s election systems ratchets up in the face of Russian attacks.

In 2017, budget writers in the Texas Legislature seemed lukewarm to the idea of replacing aging equipment. Legislation that would have created a state fund for new voting equipment died without getting a committee vote in the House. The bill received a late-session hearing during which one lawmaker on the panel, Representative Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, asked county officials to shorten their testimony because a college basketball championship game had just tipped off.

“I hope we don’t have to wait until a crisis, but we are walking on thin ice when it comes to the integrity of our voting machines,” said state Representative Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and the sponsor of the 2017 legislation.

More than 200 of Texas’ 254 counties still need to replace their voting machines and it appears unlikely that all will be able to do so in time for the next presidential election. The full price tag, according to election officials, is around $350 million — and local officials are having to find inventive ways to cover the costs. Travis County, for example, is expected to announce the winner of a new voting machine contract this week and plans to sell local bonds to come up with the anticipated $15 million.

The situation has grown dire. Some counties are using equipment that’s no longer manufactured. Machine failures are growing more common and it’s becoming harder to find replacement parts. County workers often have to scour eBay and Amazon to locate bygone tech relics such as as Zip disks and flash drives compatible with older machines.

Yeah, ZIP drives. Remember them, from the 90s? If you are relying on this kind of technology today, You Are Doing It Wrong. There’s no excuse for this – even if one thinks the counties should pay for the upgrades themselves, the cost cited in that penultimate paragraph is something like 0.3% of the state’s annual expenditures. It would be super easy to solve this if we gave a shit, but clearly our Republican leaders do not. But hey, I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen.

Opioid lawsuits

From last week:

Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading Texas into a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma for exacerbating the opioid crisis among Texans.

In an announcement Tuesday afternoon, Paxton, a Republican, flanked by several assistant attorney generals, said the state is taking the drug maker to court for misrepresenting the risks of opioid addiction.

“We must make those who have caused the opioid crisis feel the pain that they have inflicted on our community,” Paxton said.

Other states, including Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Nevada, are also pursuing lawsuits against Purdue.

While the state is planning to sue, Paxton said the main issue now is getting injunctive relief from the courts so that Purdue will have to stop misrepresenting their drugs.

The lawsuit comes as more states, cities and counties across the United States are turning to the courts as they grapple with how to hold drug makers and distributors accountable amid a harrowing — and growing — epidemic that led to more than 42,000 opioid overdoses in 2016. Main culprits in the public health crisis include prescription painkillers, such as Hydrocodone, OxyContin and the synthetic drug fentanyl, and heroin.

[…]

Paxton’s office wrote in a May 10 letter to the Texas Supreme Court that it planned to file a lawsuit under the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The consumer protection statute forbids companies from misrepresenting themselves or their products to Texans. Examples of misrepresentation include false or misleading advertising, exaggerating or misrepresenting the benefits or endorsements of a product or service, making false statements about the manufacture or origin of a product, passing off used products as new ones and price gouging.

Paxton said he’s leading Texas to sue Purdue for several reasons including for lying to doctors and patients about the possibility of increasing opioid dosages without risk, falsely representing that common signs of addiction are signs the patient needs higher opioid dosages and misrepresenting the risk of becoming addicted to the company’s abuse-deterrent formulation OxyContin.

Later in the week, Bexar County followed suit.

Bexar County on Thursday filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors that it says are responsible for the “tremendous expense” and devastating local impact endured as a result of the addiction epidemic.

“As of today we know that in San Antonio 100 residents have died annually from overdosing on opioids,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said at a press conference at the County courthouse.

Filed in state district court, the lawsuit follows commissioners’ resolution in October to pursue litigation against more than 50 companies, including Johnson and Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical, and Purdue Pharma, the maker of the synthetic opioid OxyContin.

“These manufacturers and distributors did not only put opioids into the market,” Martin Phipps, a lawyer with Phipps Anderson Deacon, said at a press conference Wednesday. They also advertised opioids directly to the military and specific populations and misled prescribers regarding potential for addiction and other long-term health complications, including brain and liver damage, he explained.

The firm is working with local law firm Watts Guerra to bring the lawsuit forward on the County’s behalf.

The city of San Antonio may join in later in the year. Dallas County was ahead of the curve.

Dallas County sued a slew of drug companies and doctors this week over their alleged roles in the deadly opioid epidemic, joining dozens of other governments nationwide that have launched court battles.

The 59-page claim filed Monday in Dallas County court accuses at least 11 pharmaceutical companies — including Purdue Pharma, which makes the bestselling painkiller OxyContin — and three local doctors of knowingly pushing addictive drugs on patients while claiming they were safe. The three doctors have all been convicted of illegal “pill mill” over-prescription practices.

“While using opioids has taken an enormous toll on Dallas County and its residents, defendants have realized blockbuster profits,” the lawsuit said. “In 2014 alone, opioids generated $11 billion in revenue for drug companies like defendants.”

[…]

County Judge Clay Jenkins said the goal of the lawsuit is to recoup some of the money that the county has had to pay for medical care and substance abuse treatment at Parkland Memorial Hospital, as well as responses by law enforcement and the jail. The suit is seeking actual and punitive damages, without specifying a number.

“When a large swath of your population becomes addicted to drugs, it’s not just them — it’s a loss of productivity, an increase in criminal activity, the jail cost associated with this — it just hits you across the board,” Jenkins said. “Taxpayers feel all of that.”

I have to assume that Harris County and the city of Houston are looking into this as well. Perhaps a reporter ought to inquire about that. Other states and localities around the country blazed the trail last year. This may all seem far-fetched, but one need only look back at the litigation filed against tobacco companies in the 90s to see the possibilities. At some level, this is what tort law and the civil courts are all about. And when you read about the family that has been raking in millions of dollars from all this, you might think it’s about time someone did something about it.

Sen. Uresti convicted on fraud charges

Time to resign.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

The courtroom was silent and thick with anxiety Thursday morning as the judge’s deputy read the verdicts: “Guilty,” “guilty,” “guilty” — 11 times over, and on all felony counts.

State Sen. Carlos Uresti sat stone-faced, his gaze directed at the deputy, as he heard the ruling that throws into question his two-decade career in the Texas Legislature and opens up the possibility more than a century in federal prison and millions of dollars in fines.

If upheld on appeal, the 11 felony charges — including multiple counts of fraud and money laundering — would render the San Antonio Democrat ineligible to continue serving as a state legislator. Uresti, an attorney by trade, would also be disbarred.

Uresti has no immediate plans to step down from his seat in the state Senate, he said minutes after the verdict. And he will “absolutely” appeal the jury’s decision.

[…]

There were no calls for resignation among state lawmakers immediately after the verdict, but Texas Democrats issued an immediate rebuke of the senator Thursday morning, saying “no one is ever above the law.”

“After being found guilty of such serious crimes, Senator Uresti must seriously consider whether he can serve his constituents,” Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Tariq Thowfeek said.

And state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, another San Antonio Democrat, said that elected officials are “held to a higher standard.”

“Over the next few weeks we need to have a serious discussion as constituents and taxpayers about how we move forward and turn the page,” he said. Gutierrez, whose district overlaps with Uresti’s, could be eyeing the senator’s seat.

See here and here for some background. You can have that “serious discussion” about moving forward and turning the page if you want, but it should happen in conjunction with Sen. Uresti resigning, which frankly he should have done months ago, for other reasons. As such, I’m glad to see this.

“In light of today’s jury conviction of Sen. Carlos Uresti, the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is calling upon Sen. Uresti to resign his position,” caucus chair Sen. José Rodriguez said in a statement.

[…]

“Voters in this time and age want people who have at least so far [demonstrated] good judgements,” said Leticia Van De Putte, former Democratic senator for Texas’ District 26. “All I know is that if the defense is ‘Well I didn’t know this was wrong,’ it’s very difficult to go back and ask people to vote for you.”

[SMU political science professor Cal] Jillson agreed: “He might find that his political career is ended because of this, and it will provide political opportunities for others.”

Van de Putte served in the Texas Senate from 1999 to 2015, overlapping nine years with Uresti, who won his senate seat in 2006.

“I’m heartbroken at the situation,” said Van de Putte, who later co-founded a consulting firm. “I know Sen. Uresti … has been an amazing champion for abused children. I worked with him on a number of efforts, he’s done great work in the Legislature.

“No one will remember all the great work he did. They’ll remember this case.”

[…]

State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) released a statement Thursday, saying elected officials are “held to a higher trust” and that constituents and taxpayers would have to “move forward and turn the page.”

Political analyst Harold Cook, who has worked in the Texas House of Representatives and as an advisor to Democrats in the Texas Senate, said Gutierrez’s tone implies he’s vying for Uresti’s seat.

“This is what I would have written for somebody [who is] already going to be a candidate,” Cook told the Rivard Report. “Senate districts don’t come up often and they’re not open often.”

District 19 is one of the biggest senate districts in the country, Cook said. “There are a lot of Democrats holding office in those counties [who] would love to be state senator.”

There are others mentioned the story, and I’m sure the list will be long when and if it comes to it. But first, we need Uresti to resign. Step down now, so we can get someone else in place as soon as possible and so we don’t face the prospect of not just one but TWO incumbent legislators going to jail, perhaps during the next session. Among the many things that I hope we’ve learned from the #MeToo movement is the concept that no one is so important or accomplished that they must be shielded from being held accountable from their actions. Please do the right thing here, Senator. The Current and the Rivard Report have more.

Ellis seeks Harris County entry into SB4 litigation

From the inbox, an email from Commissioner Ellis:

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Despite strong opposition from law enforcement officials, faith leaders, local governments, civil rights organizations, constituents, and advocacy groups, Senate Bill 4 (SB4), the “show-me-your-papers” legislation, has been signed into law. The new legislation unfairly targets immigrant families, allows state-sanctioned racial profiling, and violates rights to due process. SB4 also undermines local governments by forcing them to choose between enforcing a blatantly unconstitutional law or facing strict punishment and excessive fines from the state.

As the nation’s third-largest county with the fifth-largest foreign-born population, Harris County is at particular risk under SB4. Immigrants are a vital part of our community and strengthen the social fabric of Harris County. This new legislation threatens to tear families apart. Immigrants cannot and should not be driven back into the shadows or live in fear because of this unconstitutional law.

Already, local governments have filed suit against SB4, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday in San Antonio. Just this past week, the Houston City Council voted to join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Bexar County and other local governments in a consolidated lawsuit challenging the law.

As Commissioner, I will continue to stand with immigrant families and defend the right of local government and law enforcement to set their own priorities. In a June 9 letter, I asked Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan to seek authorization from Harris County Commissioners Court to join the lawsuit against SB4. I believe it is vitally important for Harris County to fight this unjust law and look forward to working with County Attorney Ryan on this important issue that we both care about. You can read the letter below:

SB4 is a reflection of the anti-immigrant sentiment permeating our society and stands in the way of comprehensive immigration reform. It upholds a flawed and outmoded form of immigration control that tears families apart, increases racial profiling, and violates due process. We need immigration solutions that attend to the complex issues surrounding reform with compassion, efficiency, and effectiveness in mind. And wherever there is discrimination, we must be prepared to speak out and take action.

I’ve got a copy of the letter, which was embedded as an image in the email that Commissioner Ellis sent, here. Houston-area Democratic legislators supported Ellis’ call with a letter of their own that calls on the Court to get involved. I can’t say I expect that to happen – unlike Houston City Council, Commissioners Court is 4-1 Republican – but given the unfunded costs on the county that SB4 will impose, as well as the decline in cooperation with law enforcement, you’d think there’d be a simple dollars-and-cents argument in favor of getting involved. Anything can happen, but I’m not holding my breath. Stace has more.

Bexar County joins in on SB4 litigation

Add another to the list.

Bexar County has joined the fight against Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” law.

In their biweekly meeting Tuesday, three commissioners and Judge Nelson Wolff voted to join the City of San Antonio in its lawsuit against the State of Texas in an effort to stop the controversial SB 4.

[…]

Judge Wolff said he received a text message from Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3), who was visiting his daughter in China and missed Tuesday’s meeting, saying he did not support joining the lawsuit at this time. Kevin, the lone Republican on the Commissioner’s Court, did, however, support Bexar County’s resolution against SB 4 that commissioners signed in May.

At the beginning of the meeting, Edward Schweninger, Civil Division chief for the District Attorney’s office, said he would come back to commissioners within 30 days with an official recommendation from District Attorney Nico LaHood on whether to join the lawsuit. During that time period, LaHood and his office would do more research on the legal issues surrounding SB 4 and lawsuits contesting its constitutionality, Schweninger said.

But commissioners said the County needs to act now.

“I think we need to get on board and send a message,” said Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez (Pct. 1).

See here for the background. Looks like Ken Paxton’s attempt to intimidate potential plaintiffs in anti-SB4 action hasn’t worked just yet. And yes, we’re still waiting for Houston to do something. One hopes that will sooner rather than later.

Sen. Carlos Uresti indicted on federal fraud charges

Very bad.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, accused of misleading a former client who invested in a company in which Uresti has a financial stake, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 11 charges over his involvement in the alleged investment Ponzi scheme — in addition to a separate indictment alleging bribery.

In the first indictment, the federal grand jury charged Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat, with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment also charges Uresti with five substantive counts of wire fraud; two counts of securities fraud; one count of engaging in monetary transactions with property derived from specified unlawful activity; and one count of being an unregistered securities broker.

A separate indictment centered on a contract to provide medical services to a correctional facility in West Texas. That indictment alleges that a colleague of Uresti’s, Vernon C. Farthing III, paid Uresti $10,000 per month as a marketing consultant and that half of the money was given to a Reeves County official to win over his vote to award the contract to Farthing’s company — the culmination of a 10-year scheme involving bribery and money laundering.

[…]

A lengthy investigation published by the Express-News in August first detailed Uresti’s involvement in the company and fraud allegations it faces.

Three months later, Uresti coasted to re-election, winning his San Antonio seat with 56 percent of the vote against Republican and Libertarian challengers. Uresti is among the Legislature’s most powerful Democrats. He is vice chair of the Health and Human Services committee and sits on three other high-profile committees: Finance, Education and Veteran Affairs & Border Security.

In February, the FBI and IRS raided Uresti’s law office. In a statement at the time, the senator said he was cooperating with federal agents as they were “reviewing our documents as part of their broad investigation of the FourWinds matter.”

FourWinds’ purported intent was to buy sand and sell it at a markup to oil and gas companies, but some investors have accused the company’s leadership of misrepresenting its financial health and spending their money on frivolous, personal expenses. It now faces millions of dollars in claims from investors and other companies.

Denise Cantu, whom Uresti represented in a wrongful-death case, said she lost most of the $900,000 she invested in the now-bankrupt company in 2014 at the suggestion of Uresti, according to the Express-News. She has said she was not initially aware that Uresti would get a piece of her investment, though Uresti has suggested otherwise.

With allegations of serious financial mismanagement detailed in bankruptcy court, the FBI last year opened an investigation into FourWinds, the Express-News reported. In August, Uresti told the paper that he was a “witness” in that investigation but not its target.

See here for some background, and read the rest fore more. As with Ken Paxton, I will not call for Sen. Uresti to resign at this time, as they are both still innocent in the eyes of the law. Unlike Paxton, Uresti is not on the ballot again until 2020, so he (in theory, at least) has the time to dispose of this before he has to face the voters again. That’s assuming he gets acquitted or the charges get dropped. As with other legislators who face legal troubles, I’d encourage Sen. Uresti to prioritize getting his personal affairs in order by stepping down from his office, after the session is over. Whether he does or he doesn’t, there are several State Reps in Bexar County who I think would do a fine job in that office. I wish him luck, but I also wish he’ll listen to what I’m saying. The Current has more.

Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

vote-button

There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.

(more…)

Lawsuit filed against Bexar County over voter ID info

We’re still fighting this out.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

An advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against Bexar County for misinforming voters about the state’s voter ID rules.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), filed the lawsuit Friday afternoon on behalf of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP). MALDEF attorneys argue that since Monday, October 24, the first day of early voting, Bexar officials have given out false information about Texas’ voter ID rules in polling places across the county and on a recorded message to voters on the elections website.

The faulty information, MALDEF attorneys say, does not reflect the current court-ordered voter ID rules and could discourage eligible voters from casting their ballots. The current rule lets any Bexar County resident vote, even if they don’t have one of seven state-issued photo IDs. Voters can sign a sworn statement at the polls confirming they don’t have an ID, and show another document that proves their residency (like a bank statement).

In previous elections, Texas residents were required to show a photo ID before voting. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos tweaked the requirements for the November 8 election after ruling that the state’s original voter ID rules intentionally discriminated against black and brown voters. Ramos had demanded the state spend at least $2.5 million to swiftly educate voters on the new rules. Texas officials, however, put that money toward posters and pamphlets with misleading information that made these rules appear unchanged.

According to the lawsuit, Bexar County has failed to closely follow Ramos’ orders. MALDEF attorneys have demanded the county replace the incorrect information immediately.

After SVREP staffers heard about the incorrect posters and documents at Bexar polling places on Monday, they alerted the county’s elections
administrator, Jacque Callanen. Callanen held a press conference on Tuesday, insisting that all incorrect signs had been taken down.

But on Thursday, the attorneys allege, nine voting locations still displayed posters displaying invalid voter ID laws and had elections staffers giving false ID information.

See here and here for some background, and here for MALDEF’s press release. Though there have been various problems reported around the state relating to voter ID and the way the requirements are communicated, this is the only legal action I know of. By the end of the day Friday, the judge in this suit had granted a temporary restraining order to MALDEF that among other things orders Bexar County to remove the incorrect signs and make sure other materials are up to date. Hopefully everything was fixed over the weekend, but whatever the case I would not be surprised if this in not the last time we hear these complaints. KSAT and KRWG have more.

Voter ID problems still abound

Hardly a surprise.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

This much is clear after two days of early voting in Texas: Legal wrangling over the state’s voter identification law is stirring confusion at the polls.

Amid Texans’ mad dash to polling places this week, the front end of 12 days of voting before Election Day, civil rights groups and some voters are questioning how some county election officials are portraying the state’s voter identification requirements, which a federal judge softened in August.

Among the complaints in pockets of Texas: years-old posters inaccurately describing the rules — more than a dozen instances in Bexar County — and poll workers who were reluctant to tell voters that some could cast ballots without photo identification.

Though it’s not clear that anyone walked away from the polls because of misinformation or partial information, civil rights advocates called the sporadic reports troubling.

“Not everybody is an aggressive voter. Some people are shy and laid back, and if you’re told you have to have an ID, it might cause them to get out of line and go home,” said Jose Garza, a lawyer working for groups challenging the state’s strict 2011 voter ID law.

[…]

Now, after two days of early voting, some complain that local elections officials are only further muddying Texans’ understanding.

In Bexar County, for instance, lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said they spotted outdated posters — those describing the strict 2011 ID rules without the new caveats — hanging in at least 14 of the county’s 43 polling places at various points during early voting.

“This is a situation where the Secretary of State produced [updated] materials, and you can find them online,” said Nina Perales, the group’s vice president of litigation. “The idea that polling place supply boxes were being filled with the wrong posters is so incredibly frustrating for people who have been working on this issue for years.”

Donna Parker, a spokesman for Bexar County Clerk Jacque Callanen, said Tuesday afternoon that the old posters had since been replaced with accurate ones.

But Perales disputed that the problem was fixed, saying that her group spotted eight polling places on Tuesday that still had misleading info — outdated posters either hanging alone or adjacent to the updated signage.

Here’s an eyewitness account of a problem that occurred in Harris County. I’m willing to give the election workers the benefit of the doubt. It’s been very busy, all of this is new, and Lord knows there has been a rash of misinformation coming from the state. But that’s the point – the state has been acting in bad faith, and that attitude has been echoed by some local officials, most prominently our own Stan Stanart. The fact that there is confusion should not come as a surprise – it’s practically guaranteed. It’s all of a piece with what is happening all around the country, and the motivation for these actions is plain as day. All of this needs to be stopped, and I hope it’s high up on Hillary Clinton’s agenda after the election. The Texas Civil Rights Project and ThinkProgress have more.

Record registration numbers for Harris County

Nice.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As registration closed, Harris County’s voter roster had grown by more than 6 percent since 2014, the steepest increase in 16 years. More than 323,890 new names have been added, bringing the county voter roll to more than 2.2 million.

Harris County is not alone. The Texas Secretary of State’s office two weeks ago reported the addition of more than 1 million registered voters across the state.

“The growth is out of proportion of what we have traditionally encountered,” said Doug Ray, the assistant county attorney overseeing voter registration.

[…]

Mi Familia Vota organizers say this election cycle, which has seen Hispanic people put at the center of some vicious debate, has inspired a boom in participation.

“I have seen something I have never seen,” said Carlos Duarte, Texas director for Mi Familia Vota. “Which is, people approaching us with the clear intention to register. In the past, we would have to approach them and explain to them why this is important.”

In recent months in the Houston area, the group has set up voter registration booths at high schools, community colleges, festivals, fairs and church services. It even partnered with several taco trucks to distribute registration forms. The group’s local volunteers turned in 2,700 voter registration forms this year and handed out about 1,000 more.

It stands to reason that if voter registration is way up statewide, then it will necessarily be up in the most populous counties as well. It may be a few days before we have final full numbers, but I’m guessing 15 million is well within reach. Of interest is that in Harris County, registrations among people with Spanish surnames were up 22 percent, while registrations among everyone else were up 10 percent. Make of that what you will.

A few stories from elsewhere in the state. Bexar County:

A record number of Bexar County residents could head to the polls this election, according to early totals from county officials.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the last day to register to vote in Texas, 1,036,610 people had signed up to vote in Bexar County, about 118,000 more registered voters than in 2012, the last presidential election.

With a few hours left to turn in voter forms, Jacquelyn Callanen, Bexar County elections administrator, expected that number could go up by at least 5,000 more.

“We’ve been busy,” Callanen said over the phone from the election office on Frio Street. In addition to a steady stream of walk-ins, the office had as many as 50 phone calls at any given time.

“I didn’t expect to see this huge swell at the end of the last two days of registration,” Callanen said. “That’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Callanen said the elections office had 500 walk-ins Monday and 1,000 walk-ins Tuesday alone. She credits the almost 13 percent increase in registered voters from 2012 to both a booming county population and the fact that this year is a non-incumbent presidential election, “which also has an awful lot of interest.”

Travis County:

Travis County reached a voter registration milestone ahead of this year’s presidential election. Local election officials set a goal after the 2012 election to have 90 percent of the county registered. As of [Monday], officials met that goal.

“Ninety percent of Travis County eligible citizens are registered to vote for the first time in recent history – maybe ever,” said Bruce Elfant, Travis County’s voter registrar.

He says his office has stacks and stacks of voter registration cards.

“You should see the pictures of the piles of cards over here,” he said.

The Statesman puts that at 725,000 registered voters, possibly more, which is an increase of some 90,000+ over 2012. Harris County’s percentage of adults registered is just under 80%, according to the Chron story. It sounds like Travis County is measuring against the Citizen Voting Age Population, which if so is not truly comparable to Harris. Be that as it may, Travis County has always been an overachiever on this measure.

Pre-deadline stories from Dallas County peg the increase at over 100,000 there, while El Paso County was at 420K total voters, or 35K more than 2012, as of Friday. Again, total registrations do not necessarily correlate to turnout, but no matter how you slice it, there’s going to be a lot of people voting this year. I can’t wait to see what the early voting numbers look like.

Two more Clinton campaign offices opened in Texas

In Austin:

Hillary Clinton

The Democratic National Committee opened its Austin headquarters on Sunday.

The move comes amid a surprisingly narrowing gap (given the longtime deep-red status of the state) between Clinton and her GOP rival, Donald Trump, for the presidency. The office is located at 61 N. Interstate 35 at Holly Street, serving as the base for local organizing activity and house volunteers operating phone banks and organizing meetings, KXAN-TV reported.

Members of the public were invited to the opening in quintessentially Texas manner, with barbecue. The office also comes just days before Clinton running mate Tim Kaine makes his second visit to Austin on Sept. 23 to raise campaign money.

And in San Antonio:

Last week the Democrats opened an office in Houston and another Saturday in San Antonio.

The San Antonio campaign office will be the hub for the push to elect Clinton and other Democrats on the Texas ballot in November.

Organizers there will put volunteers to work at phone banks and canvassing neighborhoods.

Democrats expect to hold events at the Alamo City office as we get closer to the general election.

These go along with the Houston office. We were told at that time that more such offices would be coming, though the campaign did not specify any details. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe an office in Dallas, one in El Paso, and one in the Valley, but I’m just guessing. In my fondest dreams, we’d have them in places that aren’t Democratic but which have growing populations and voters who really ought to be contacted – Fort Bend, Williamson, Collin, you know the placews I’m thinking of. Maybe some year when there are more resources and Texas is seen as a legit swing state. For now, however many we do get, it’s good to have them.

Reducing pot prosecutions one county at a time

Some Texas cities are taking direct action to dial back the drug wars and reduce their jail population.

Zonker

As lawmakers have wrestled in recent years with easing restrictions on marijuana use – an issue they likely will confront again when they convene in January – prosecutors in the state’s most populated areas are relaxing their pursuit of cases that involve recreational amounts of the drug.

An American-Statesman analysis shows those practices are resulting in a spike of marijuana dismissals in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis and Tarrant counties. In each of the five counties, the rate of dismissal has risen since 2011, dramatically in some places. The trend also appears to be playing out statewide, where 23 percent of all misdemeanor marijuana cases were dismissed in 2011. In 2015, nearly a third were.

Yet that doesn’t mean Texas is witnessing de facto legalization: the number of new misdemeanor pot cases filed by police has stayed relatively constant.

The rate of dismissals is increasing fastest in North Texas. According to data kept by the Texas Office of Court Administration, Tarrant County prosecutors went from dismissing just 9 percent of cases five years ago to 24.3 percent last year. In Dallas County, the dismissal rate more than doubled, from 18 percent in 2011 to 41 percent last year.

Someone nabbed with a small amount of weed in Harris County in 2011 had about a 1 in 5 chance of getting the case dismissed; now it’s about 2 in 5 after officials developed a deferral program in which defendants have their cases thrown out if they meet certain qualifications.

In Travis County, prosecutors in recent years also have dismissed a greater percentage of marijuana cases. But much like in Bexar County, the frequency of dismissals was already significantly higher than in other counties.

For instance, Travis County in 2011 dismissed 42.6 percent of all resolved cases, compared to a statewide average of 22.9 percent.

Most of this is just due to prosecutors not wanting to pursue such minor offenses, and who can blame them? It’s not a substitute for policy, or a change in state law that would institutionalize this behavior. That’s still needed, even if the Legislature isn’t ready for it.

Voter registration numbers keep increasing

Always good news, though it’s hard to say anything definitive.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

County elections officials across Texas are reporting a spike in registered voters this election cycle, with one county now exceeding one million registered voters for the first time ever. Earlier this week, Bexar County Elections said they surpassed 1 million registered voters, according to News 4 Television in San Antonio.

That makes Bexar the fourth county in the state with one million or more registered voters. Harris County tops the list at 2 million followed by Dallas and Tarrant.

“Normally we anticipate spikes closer to the elections. We really exceed in September and the first week of October,” said Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole. “But we’re seeing a spike because of different organizations registering voters.”

According to data provided by Pippins-Poole’s office, nearly 113,000 new voters registered in Dallas by the end of July. She noted an uptick in registrations during historically slower times. In February alone her office received 29,922 voter applications, an increase of 186 percent compared to 2012.

Of the county’s eight Republican state representatives, four are vulnerable in a presidential election.

[…]

Heather Evans, an associate professor of political science at Sam Houston State University, suggested Democrats tend to focus on voter registration more than Republicans, which might help explain the uptick in Bexar and Dallas Counties.

“My research over the past four years shows that Democrats are the ones who always talk about/focus on increasing voter registration,” Evans said in an email to Quorum Report.

But two of the fastest growing counties in the country, Tarrant and Fort Bend, have also seen a spike in registration.

I believe that all adult citizens who are not currently under a felony conviction should be allowed to vote, so I’m always glad to see voter registration numbers go up. We would need a lot more information to draw any conclusions about what if anything the numbers might mean. Texas is a growing state, so voter reg numbers should generally increase, though they have often not kept up with the increase in the adult citizen population. Where people live is a huge factor, and for counties of any size that means going down to the precinct level, to see what the ambient proclivities are. It would be nice to know how many of these people are brand new to voting, and how many are new arrivals to the state who have an established history of voting somewhere else. And to the extent that people are being registered as part of an organized effort, it would be nice to know after the fact how many of these people eventually turned out to vote. In general, newly registered voters participate at roughly the same levels as other voters, but that’s in the aggregate. I’m sure some groups are better at this than others; I’d like to know which ones fall into which category. For now, file this away till early voting begins.

HD120 special election runoff decided

For completists only.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

Independent Laura Thompson has won the special election runoff to temporarily fill the Texas House seat of former state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio.

Thompson, a freelance writer, will be the first independent to serve in the Legislature in more than half a century, though her time will be limited: She was running to represent House District 120 for just the next several months.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Thompson defeated Democrat Lou Miller by 50 votes, 635 to 585 in unofficial returns. Thompson will serve through the rest of the year before McClendon’s permanent successor — to be elected in November — takes over ahead of the 2017 session.

The last person to serve in the Legislature without a major-party affiliation was state Rep. Howard Green of Fort Worth, according to Legislative Reference Library records. Green served from 1957 to 1966, and while he was a Democrat most of those years, he identified as an independent for the 1959 session.

[…]

A separate race is unfolding to permanently fill the McClendon seat starting in January. Democrat Barbara Gervin-Hawkins emerged victorious from a primary runoff in May and she is running unopposed in November.

As an independent candidate, Thompson also had the opportunity to appear on the November ballot along with Gervin-Hawkins. While Thompson petitioned for the spot, she did not qualify, according to a spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state’s office, Alicia Pierce.

To say Thompson will “serve” in the Lege is a bit of an overbid, since no one is expecting a special session and there’s not likely to be much committee action – assuming she gets appointed to some committees – before January. For comparison’s sake, the more meaningful HD139 special election runoff, which was meaningful because the winner will also be the incumbent in 2017, drew 1836 votes, to this election’s 1210. There were over 3500 votes in the HD120 primary runoff, which determined who will be the Representative when the gavel hits, and over 10,000 votes in the March primary. Congratulations to everyone who voted in this race, you all deserve a ribbon for you above-and-beyond dedication to civic duty. The Current, which contradicts the Trib’s reporting about Thompson being on the ballot in November, not that it matters, has more.

New affidavit procedure implemented for HD120 special election runoff

Seems likely this is what we’re going to get for November.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Now before the Court comes the Consent Motion for Entry of Temporary Remedial Order, filed on July 23, 2016. The Court has considered the motion and determined that it should be GRANTED.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Motion for Entry of Temporary Remedial Order is GRANTED.

LIMITED INTERIM RELIEF

With regard to the special election for Texas House District No. 120 on August 2, 2016, with early voting to begin on July 25, 2016, if a voter seeking to cast a ballot appears on the official list ofregistered voters but does not possess an acceptable form of photo ID due to a reasonable impediment, the following steps shall be taken by the election officer to allow the voter to cast a provisional ballot:

  • Provide the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form, attached as Exhibit B, or a Spanish language translation thereof, to the voter, and ask the voter to provide one of the following forms of identification:
    a. A valid voter registration certificate, or
    b. A current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name of the voter.
  • If the voter does not have one of the above forms of identification, they must provide their date of birth and the last four digits of their social security number in the space provided on the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form.
  • Ask the voter to complete this form by entering their name, address, and, where applicable, date of birth, and last four digits of their social security number, and then ask them to review the “Voter’s Affldavit of Reasonable Impediment,” indicate their impediment, and sign their name.
  • Ask the voter to return the completed form to the election judge. The election judge should indicate at the bottom of the form what type of identification the voter provided. The election judge whould enter the date and sign in the space provided.
  • Provide the “Affidavit ofProvisional Voter” envelope to the voter, and ask them to complete the voter portion on the front side of the envelope.
  • Ask the voter to return the completed envelope, and on the reverse side, the election judge shall complete their portion. The election judge should mark “Other” and indicate that the voter is casting a provisional ballot due to a reasonable impediment. The election judge should enter the date and sign in the space provided.
  • Staple the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form to the “Affidavit of Provisional Voter” envelope, and the voter shall proceed to cast a provisional ballot.

Upon confirmation that the “Affidavit of Provisional Voter” envelope is complete and that the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit is attached, the ballot shall be counted by the provisional balloting board unless there is conclusive evidence that the affiant is not the person in whose name the ballot is cast.

The Secretary of State will provide the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form to the Bexar County Elections District for distribution to election officials.

Link via Rick Hasen. This is more or less what we expected after the parameters for “softening” Texas’ voter ID law after the Fifth Circuit ruling was handed down. This order specifies that both sides may still “seek or oppose future orders of relief”, so just because this is the process that the handful of people who will vote in the essentially meaningless runoff for the HD120 special election doesn’t mean it is what we’ll get for November. For that, District Court Judge Nelva Ramos has requested briefs from both sides by August 5, with a hearing on August 17, and a ruling to presumably follow in short order. Early voting for that HD120 runoff happens this week, so we may get a bit of real world data on how this solution works, though given the low stakes of that election and the likelihood of miniscule turnout, I wouldn’t expect much. The briefs and the hearing will tell us what we should expect. The Lone Star Projectand the Trib have more.

UPDATE: From Texas Lawyer:

On July 21, Matt Frederick, the deputy Solicitor General of Texas, responded to the court’s inquiry about any possible appeal of the Fifth Circuit ruling by stating that Texas did not intend to seek a Supreme Court review “at this time.”

[…]

[Deuel Ross, assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who represents plaintiffs challenging the Texas voter ID law], said the challengers were “satisfied” with the voter identification rules that Ramos has established for the Bexar County special election.

“We think the relief is appropriate,” he said.

Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General, said in an email about the state’s plan to response to the Fifth Circuit ruling: “At this time, we are in discussions with the plaintiffs and are evaluating all of our options.”

We’ll see if they come to an agreement for November.

Mixed signals on voter registration

It’s mostly good news, but it could be better.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

While nonpartisan groups say funding is lagging to sign up Latinos to vote in the November election, voter registrations — likely fueled by Donald Trump’s salvos against people of Mexican heritage — are well ahead of 2012 along the Texas border and in the state’s largest counties.

Bexar County last week reported crossing the 1 million mark of registered voters for the first time, an additional 30,000 people this year and 80,000 more than in the 2012 presidential election.

“That’s the size of a small town we’ve registered this year,” Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen said.

She attributed the expanding electorate to population growth and to an election season she termed “nonconventional.”

Harris County has posted an increase of 150,000 since 2012, thanks in part to the 1,200 to 1,500 newly naturalized citizens added each month to the voter rolls, Harris County Voter Registrar Mike Sullivan said.

[…]

Nonetheless, groups devoted to mobilizing Latinos contend that despite the many newly registered voters, they see complacence by donors and Democratic Party leaders.

“Don’t count on Donald Trump being the guy who’s going to get people out to vote in November,” said Ben Monterroso, executive director of California-based Mi Familia Vota.

Mi Familia, which has offices in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, has a goal of registering 95,000 people this year across the country. But the group is less than one-third of the way there and at least 10,000 behind the pace of four years ago.

At this point in 2012, the National Council of La Raza had significant operations in Florida, Colorado and Nevada and lesser programs in Texas and four other states.

Last week, the group was fully up and running only in Florida.

“We have one-fifth the funding we had back then even though Latinos are the talk of the town,” said Clarissa Martinez-de-Castro, the La Raza council’s deputy vice president.

Part of the problem, leaders say, involves planning delays due to the late-breaking race for the Democratic nomination. They say, too, that donor money that used to be spent on nonpartisan registration is landing in partisan political operations.

“A lot of it is flowing directly into PACs or focused on ads and mail,” Martinez-de-Castro said, “rather than the retail work and the elbow grease it takes to bring new voters into the equation.”

Harris County had just over 1.2 million registered voters in November of 2012, so that puts us north of 1.35 million, which is quite impressive. Considering that the 2012 total was barely higher than 2008’s, it’s even more so. As for Bexar County, their registered population actually declined by 11,000 voters from 2008 to 2012, so again, impressive. How much more could we have done if all of these groups that focus on voter registration had been properly funded? I couldn’t say. It would be nice to get all these efforts funded, and I expect that more attention will be focused on them now that the primary has finally been settled.

The again, some groups have done better in the resources department than others.

The goal for Latino Victory was spelled out in 2014: Elect Latinos to public office.

Two years later, the group shows signs of becoming a force in national politics, doubling its receipts and operating in campaigns around the country in a year when Latinos have high hopes for political success.

In mid-July, Latino Victory and allies plan to announce a major mobilization of Latino voters around the country to prepare for the November election.

“I think that the Latino Victory Project is poised to help create the national narrative about why it is important for Latinos and Latino families to have a stake in this election and how important it is for us to vote,” Muñoz said in an interview.

They seem to be more about turnout than voter registration, but it’s all part of the same package. In the end, what matters most is the result. Campos has more.

Democratic primary runoff results

vote-button

Harris County results

Fort Bend County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Just for the record, we didn’t get any precinct results until 8:34, at which time only 8% of precincts had reported. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of overwhelming turnout this time. We did get a big batch just after 9, but thanks to some close races, Harris County results will be the last ones I write about in this post.

Grady Yarbrough cements his position as this generation’s Gene Kelly by winning the Railroad Commissioner runoff. I’ll say again, you want a decent candidate to win these downballot primaries, especially against a perennial candidate, you’re going to need some investment in those races.

On a more interesting note, first-time candidate Vicente Gonzalez won the runoff in CD15 to succeed retiring Rep. Ruben Hinojosa. Gonzalez drew support from a bunch of Congressional incumbents, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Someone at least thinks he has a bright future, so keep an eye on him.

In Bexar County, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins will succeed retiring Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon in HD120.

In fairness to Stan Stanart, the Fort Bend County result reporting was even worse. They posted some precinct results a few minutes before Harris did, then bizarrely went back to showing early votes with zero precincts in. That was still the case as of 9:45 PM, then finally at 10 PM all the results came in at once. The deservedly maligned Rep. Ron Reynolds led 59-41 after early voting, then held on for a 53-47 margin. I wonder if voters were changing their minds, or if it was just the nature of Reynolds supporters to vote early. Whatever the case, he won.

And from Harris County:

– Dakota Carter wins in SBOE6.
– Ed Gonzalez will be the nominee for Sheriff.
– Judge Elaine Palmer easily held off JoAnn Storey for the 215th Civil District Court. Kristin Hawkins had an easy win for the 11th. The closest race of the evening was in the 61st, where Fredericka Phillips nosed out Julie Countiss by 210 votes after overcoming a small early lead by Countiss.
– Eric William Carter won in JP Precinct 1, while Hilary Green held on in JP Precinct 7.
– Chris Diaz romped in Constable Precinct 2, while Sherman Eagleton cruised in Constable Precinct 3.

And finally, Jarvis Johnson won in HD139, entirely on the strength of absentee ballots. Kimberly Willis won the early in-person vote as well as the Runoff Day vote, but not by a large enough margin given the modest number of people who turned out. Johnson will have the seniority advantage over his fellow freshmen thanks to his win in the special election, but this is not the kind of result that will scare anyone off for the next cycle.

Jarvis Johnson wins HD139 special election

For whatever it turns out to be worth.

Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Houston voters on Saturday selected Jarvis D. Johnson to fill the remainder of the unexpired term of former District 139 State Representative Sylvester Turner, now mayor of Houston.

Johnson, a former Houston city councilman, defeated Rickey “Raykay” Tezino in Saturday’s race, according to unofficial results. He was the only challenger.

Johnson will serve until at least January. To hold on to the position past that point, Johnson will have to defeat Kimberly Willis in a May 24 special election.

Willis, a social worker and community activist, did not choose to compete in Saturday’s bid to fill Turner’s unexpired term, instead focusing her efforts on the May 24 match up. Primary runoff elections in judicial, sheriff’s and constable races will also be held that day.

Here are the election returns from the Secretary of State. As you can see, the story does not convey the magnitude of Johnson’s win, which was with over 83% of the vote. Of course, that was 83% of 1,836 total votes, so as landslides go it was fairly modest in scope. It’s the election on May 24 that really matters. If Johnson wins that, he gets a head start on all the other freshman legislators-to-be. If not, he’s just another footnote.

Here are the HD120 special election results as well, in which two people who will not be a part of the 2017 Legislature will now go to a runoff to decide who gets to be called “Representative” for a few months. I pity everyone involved in that endeavor.

In other news, here are the election results from Fort Bend County. Of interest are the city of Richmond ballot propositions. As noted in that Chron story above, Proposition 1, to increase the number of city commissioners, passed by a large margin, with over 82% voting in favor. Prop 2, for single member districts, failed by a 47-53 tally.

And finally, every election has at least one reminder that every vote counts. Here’s this election’s reminder:

The Katy School Board Race between Joe Adams and George Scott will not be decided until Friday when provisional ballots are examined, and when additional military ballots could arrive in the mail.

When the votes were tallied on Saturday night George Scott was ahead of incumbent Joe Adams by seven votes. Scott had 1,473 votes to Adams 1,466 but there are 12 provisional ballots that need further examination. That examination will happen on Friday according to Scott. Friday is also the deadline for military ballots.

Seven votes, y’all. I couldn’t find an official election returns page, so I’ll assume that this story is accurate, and I’ll keep my eyes open for a followup on Friday. In the meantime, my tentative congratulations to George Scott for the win.

We haven’t heard the last of TMF

He’ll be back.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer says he laments nothing about a failed gambit for the state Senate that will end his 16-year stint with the Texas Legislature.

The boisterous San Antonio Democrat, however, is leaving office at the end of the year with a message: Don’t write off his political career just yet.

“Last time I checked this wasn’t a retirement party,” Martinez Fischer, 45, said in an interview. “I don’t want anybody to misconstrue my words to think this is my political obituary.”

[…]

Experts say they expect to see Martinez Fischer back in action and point to possible scenarios for another run at a high-profile public office, potentially Bexar County Commissioners Court or U.S. Congress. But, they note, the right opportunity would have to present itself, requiring in most cases for an incumbent to move on.

Democratic consultant Christian Archer said Martinez Fischer’s immediate choices appear limited.

Two seats on the Commissioners Court could present options, he said: Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo, 80, is up for re-election in 2018 and hasn’t said what he plans to do. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, 74, also hasn’t committed to another term.

Archer said running for either spot on the Commissioners Court would make perfect sense for Martinez Fischer.

“It keeps you home in San Antonio. It also comes with real check. And there’s a lot of power,” he said. “I would think that Trey would have to look at running for county commissioner or county judge if it were available.”

But Archer noted that Elizondo and Wolff are powerful and entrenched incumbents and would have to decide against running to make it feasible for Martinez Fischer.

Another scenario political observers are floating involves Martinez Fischer running to succeed U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, if he were tapped for a role in a potential Hillary Clinton White House or if he makes a run for another office in the near future.

There are some obvious parallels to Adrian Garcia here, as TMF lost a bruising primary against an incumbent after being in what was essentially another primary, one that was just as bruising, last year. The first order of business is to patch up damaged relationships and get everyone to remember why they liked him in the first place, and the best way to do that is to go all out to help Democrats win up and down the ballot this year. In Bexar County, that means working to retake HDs 117 and 118, and the Dems there have a Sheriff’s office to win as well. His old colleague Pete Gallego could use some help winning back CD23 as well. Do those things, with enthusiasm and visibility, and the potential possibilities become more possible. Like Garcia, TMF is a young man, so he could take a cycle or two off if he wants or needs to, and still be in good shape. We will miss having TMF in the Lege, but I feel confident that he has more good to do, and I look forward to supporting him in that again when the time is right.

We’re still growing

The collapse of the oil boom has not slowed down Texas’ rapid population growth.

The Houston area added more people last year than any metropolitan region in the country, continuing its exceptional growth of the last decade and a half, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday.

Combined, the greater Houston metropolitan area, which includes Houston, The Woodlands and Sugar Land, grew by about 160,000 people between July 2014 and July 2015. Even in a year when the region was rocked by falling oil prices, the population gain was still bigger than the two previous years, when the boom appeared never-ending.

As a whole, the so-called Texas Triangle of Houston, Austin/San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worthadded more people last year than any other state in the country, growing by more than 400,000 residents, or roughly the population of Minneapolis. Harris County alone added nearly 90,500 residents.

“Our growth has been so exceptional that we are out-competing” the rest of the nation, said Steve Murdock, a former Census Bureau director who heads the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University.

Not only has the region grown more in absolute numbers than the rest of the country – it is also growing at a faster rate.

Of the country’s 20 fastest-growing counties, eight were in Texas, including Fort Bend County, which added nearly 29,500 people last year and expanded by more than 4 percent. Of the nation’s 20 fastest-growing metro areas, Houston is by far the biggest city on the list, with growth of 2.4 percent.

The reason people keep flocking here: Jobs, lots of them, and a cheap cost of living. But even within the period measured by the Census – which started at the beginning of oil’s decline and ended before prices bottomed out last month – there were signs that growth was slowing, though just slightly. Oil prices peaked in June 2014 at about $105 a barrel and have tumbled more than 50 percent since.

“We’re starting to feel the impact,” said Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development organization.

He said the Houston metro area created 57,300 jobs during the period tracked by the Census, compared with 97,500 new jobs the year before. About 22,000 new jobs are forecast for this year, a significant drop.

Although the number of people moving to Harris County from other cities and states had been surging upward for years, it dropped by 20 percent in the period covered by the Census. The greater metro area saw a more gradual decline of 6 percent, to about 62,000.

“The word is getting out there nationally and internationally that we’re not booming like we used to,” Jankowski said. “We’re still going to have people moving here, but not at the rate when the economy was booming.”

Still, he noted that the Houston region has added nearly 737,000 people since the 2010 census – growth of about 12 percent – while many other cities like Chicago are losing residents en masse.

“As far as absolute numbers, we’ve added more population than New York, more than Los Angeles, more than Dallas in the last five years,” he said. “That’s the sort of numbers other places would kill to have.”

The slight cooling “gives us a chance to catch our breath,” he added.

The Houston area also has a fair amount of growth from natural causes, which is to say more people being born than people dying. It will be interesting to see what these numbers look like in another two years, especially if oil and gas prices remain low. I don’t expect the area to lose population, but there’s a lot of room still for its growth to decelerate.

There’s a map embedded in the story that shows the growth of each county. Every major metro area, including places like Tyler (Smith County), San Angelo (Tom Green County), and Abilene (Taylor and Jones counties) grew. The one sort-of exception was Amarillo, which is split between Randall (grew by 1,575) and Potter (lost 474) counties. Some grew more than others – El Paso, which has 835,593 people, only added 48 more. The only counties of any size I could find that didn’t grow were Coryell (population 75,503; lost 4 people) and Wichita (population 131,705; lost 1,250). Wichita, home of Wichita Falls, was the only county in Texas to lose more than 1,000 people. And if you’ve ever wondered why traffic on I-35 is as bad as it is, every county along I-35 from Bexar to Bell grew by at least 5,000 people. So there you have it. The official Census Bureau press release is here, and Texas Monthly, Reuters, Bloomberg, CultureMap, the DMN, and the Trib have more.

Overview of two Bexar County legislative primaries

The turnover of Bexar County’s Democratic legislative caucus continues apace. With the departures in 2015 of Mike Villarreal and Jose Menendez (succeeded by Diego Bernal and Ina Minjarez, respectively) and the departures this year by Joe Farias, Trey Martinez-Fischer, and Ruth Jones McClendon, there will be a whole lot of Bexar County legislators being sworn in on January 2, 2017 that weren’t there two years before. The Rivard Report takes a look at the three candidates who hope to succeed TMF in HD116.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez are not exactly household names in San Antonio, but all three candidates are hoping past political training or staff experience propel them into elected office. The primary winner – or May 24 runoff winner if a second round of voting is necessary – will run unopposed on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot and be sworn into office in January.

[…]

A Jefferson High School graduate, Arévalo served on the San Antonio Youth Commission and became involved with student government while attending college. She majored in business, earning a bachelor’s degree at UTSA and a master’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. As an undergraduate, Arévalo was a fellow at the United Leaders Institute for Political Service at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and she attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University.

She worked as an intern in U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office, and at the Obama White House in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. She parlayed these and other experiences into a chance to work with the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee, and on President Obama’s 2013 inaugural committee.

Back home, Arévalo has served as secretary of the Bexar County Democratic Party, and currently chairs the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention Host Committee. Her party work led to an opportunity to manage the 2013 City Council campaign of Leticia Ozuna, who finished second in a three way-race won by Rebecca Viagran. Arévalo said she learned a lot from the experience that she now is applying in her own campaign.

[…]

Golando, 38, is a native Midwesterner who has called San Antonio home for 17 years. He earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law and is a partner in the downtown law firm Garza Golando Moran, specializing in election and civil rights laws. Golando has the most direct connection to Martinez Fischer. He has worked for him for 10 years, including time as his chief of staff. Galindo said he focused on water policy, taxation and legislative procedure.

Golando has served for two years as general counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus, and he has served as a co-counsel during the hotly contested Texas redistricting case and all challenges to the Texas Voter ID law. In 2013, Golando was briefly in the national spotlight. In the wake of the legislative redistricting fight that began in 2011, Golando requested repayment from the state of more than $282,000 in legal fees he said he incurred while helping the caucus in its legal battle.

The state’s Attorney General’s office, then under Greg Abbott’s leadership, said Golando was ineligible for repayment because of his dual employment. Golando has kept up the legal battle, and the case is still active.

[…]

Resendez is the first graduate of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s program to prepare young Latinas for public service who is seeking elected office, which led to this recent story on the Rivard Report.

“People want to have good, high-quality, high-paying jobs. People also want to make sure senior citizens’ needs are met,” Resendez said she has learned in her district campaigning. “There are good ideas in the community. We’re getting out onto the streets to help find solutions to conflicts in our neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, the Express News provides a glimpse of the six candidates running to succeed McClendon in HD120.

On the Democrats’ March 1 ballot — listed in the following order — are Lou Miller, Latronda Darnell, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Art Hall, Mario Salas and Byron Miller.

[…]

Lou Miller, an insurance agent and district governor for Rotary International who served on the city zoning commission and the VIA Transit board, said he knows “how to get things done even as a non-elected official,” having helped lure a planned health clinic to the East Side.

He said he’d continue McClendon’s push to build a state office complex near downtown, a $135 million proposal that was approved by lawmakers in 2015 but vetoed by Abbott as too costly.

Darnell, a former legislative staffer to McClendon, said social justice issues are an overriding concern, along with improving education. Having served in the Legislature, she said she already has working relationships with key lawmakers and state officials, and her experience there taught her that “what happens in Austin happens to you.”

Working for McClendon, who had served District 120 since 1996, Darnell said she learned that “to serve 120 means to be engaged with this community.” And while candidates may have great ideas, change won’t happen if a lawmaker doesn’t have good rapport with other leaders.

Gervin-Hawkins, an educator who serves as executive director and superintendent of the George Gervin Youth Center, cited education as her focus, including faith-based, non-profit and public schools.

Calling these “pivotal times,” she said “what’s needed in Austin right now is someone with diplomacy, strategic planning and the ability to make things happen.” Lamenting a disinterested electorate, she said “we’ve got to give people hope again.” And citing rivalries exposed by the campaign, Gervin-Hawkins said “it’s about how we work together. Let’s unify. ”

Hall, a Harvard grad who earned a law degree from Texas Tech, likewise said education would be his top concern. The attorney who served on City Council and works as a district director for Alamo Colleges, said he’s wants to apply the financial and international business acumen he gained in the private sector.

“We deserve good, strong leadership to carry on the legacy that Ruth Jones McClendon and many others have left behind,” Hall said. Citing his role as a minister, Hall departed from the rest by saying he doesn’t condone same-sex marriage.

Salas, an educator who served on City Council and the Judson ISD board, wants teachers to be treated better by the state, along with minorities and women.

“We need a fighter in that position and I intend to wind it up,” Salas said. He called attention to his long involvement in racial equality and social justice causes and touted his backing by teacher groups. In Austin, Salas said he’s ready to fight “this jaugernaut of right-wing extremism” that impacts immigration policy and other issues.

Byron Miller, an attorney and Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who served as a justice of the peace and on numerous community boards, said he’s determined to bring better treatment of veterans and the elderly, and he’s also an advocate for early childhood education.

Although the district continues to have problems with infrastructure and social justice, Byron Miller said “it’s getting better” and will continue doing so “if we work together.” He added: “I want to represent everyone, equally.”

Golando in HD116 and Miller in HD120 were endorsed by the Express-News in their primaries. I don’t know much about any of these people, so it’s good to get at least a few tidbits.

It’s worth noting that in 2012, there were eight Democrats elected to the Lege from Bexar County, out of ten total districts. Here’s what the delegation looked like then, and what happened to them since:

HD116 – Trey Martinez-Fischer. He ran in the special election for SD26 after Leticia Van de Putte stepped down to run for Mayor but lost in a runoff to Jose Menendez. This year, he chose to go for a rematch in SD26, thus leaving his seat open.

HD117 – Philip Cortez reclaimed a seat that had been held by David Leibowitz from 2004 through 2010 before losing it in the 2010 wipeout. Cortez then lost it in 2014, and is trying to win it back this year.

HS118 – Joe Farias. Elected in 2006 to succeed Carlos Uresti after his successful primary race against then-Sen. Frank Madla, Farias announced his retirement at the end of the last session. He vacated his seat shortly thereafter, and the remainder of his term was won in a special election runoff by a Republican. Two Democrats, both of whom vied for his seat in the special election, are fighting each other in the primary for the chance to win it back in November: Gabe (son of Joe) Farias, and Tomas (brother of Carlos) Uresti; the latter was the loser in the special election runoff.

HD119 – Roland Gutierrez is now the senior member of the delegation. He was elected in 2008 in an unopposed primary to succeed Robert Puente, who was one of the last Craddick Dems still in the Lege.

HD120 – As noted above, Ruth Jones McClendon has retired, and resigned her seat. A special election to fill the remainder of her term will be held in May.

HD123 – Mike Villarreal. He stepped down after winning re-election in 2014 so he could run for Mayor of San Antonio. Diego Bernal won that seat in a January special election.

HD124 – Jose Menendez was the winner for SD26 last year, which then created a vacancy for his seat. Ina Minjarez won that in an April runoff.

HD125 – Justin Rodriguez is now the second longest-serving Democrat in Bexar County. He won the primary for that seat after Joaquin Castro moved up to Congress.

Whew. Lots of changes, with more to come. Good luck sorting it all out, Bexar County.

Endorsement watch: Succeeding Sylvester

The Chron makes its choice for HD139.

Kimberly Willis

Kimberly Willis

We encourage Democratic Party voters to look for a candidate who will emulate Turner’s successful model of connecting constituents’ interests with the levers of state power in Austin. We believe that Kimberly Willis will be that candidate.

Willis’ experience as a former staffer in the Legislature and as a social worker in Houston gives her a comprehensive view of the ways in which government programs can impact neighborhoods.

“I understand what good public policy does for a community,” she told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

[…]

Also running for the position are Randy Bates, 66, a former Lone Star College trustee; Jerry Ford Jr., 23, a student activist; and Jarvis Johnson, 44, a former member of Houston City Council.

Ford has an impressive passion and said he is running to spark a movement of youth involvement in politics, but he could use a little more experience. Bates and Johnson both have that experience as elected officials. However, Bates relied too much on vagaries when he talked with the editorial board. Johnson faced allegations of unethical and illegal behavior while on City Council, including allegations of trying to direct city contracts and being charged with evading arrest. He was never indicted or convicted, but too many questions still remain about Johnson’s political ethics.

Here are my interviews with Willia, Ford, and Bates. I’ll just note that Jarvis Johnson had no online campaign presence as my last check, and did not file a January finance report. He does almost certainly have the most name recognition among the foursome, and came dangerously close to winning a seat on the HCDE in 2012, so don’t count him out.

Meanwhile, since I happened to come across it, here are some primary legislative recommendations from San Antonio:

In Texas House District 116, three Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to replace state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who is vacating the post to run for the Texas Senate.

The three contenders are Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez. All three have the potential to be solid public servants, but Golando has far more relevant experience than the others. And for that reason, we recommend that voters cast their ballots for Golando.

Serving as Martinez Fischer’s chief of staff for almost 10 years, Golando has a vast amount of experience in the legislative process that will enable him to hit the ground running. A lawyer, Golando has served as the general counsel of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which was led by Martinez Fischer.

[…]

We strongly urge Democrats to nominate [Gabe] Farias [in HD118], who has served as president and CEO of the West Side Chamber of Commerce since 2012. Farias has an understanding of business issues that will be helpful in the Legislature. He also has served on the staff of two City Council members and worked in the office of state Rep. Roland Gutierrez.

Additionally, Farias demonstrates a superior knowledge of key legislative matters, advocates expanding Medicaid and is a strong supporter of public education.

[…]

We recommend that voters cast their ballots for Byron Miller, an Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who has been elected to the EAA District 2 post three times. Miller’s EAA experience gives him a strong foundation to be a voice for Bexar County on water policy, which is a crucial issue in the state.

Miller is a lifelong resident of District 120 and has a long record of civic involvement, ranging from being a Boy Scoutmaster to serving on the Carver Cultural Center and Witte Museum boards. Miller also served on the Bexar County Coliseum Advisory board.

[…]

In District 124, we strongly recommend Ina Minjarez, who last spring was elected to the post formerly held by Sen. José Menéndez with only weeks remaining in the legislative session.

Starting at the bottom, Minjarez was the E-N’s preferred candidate in that special election last year, and all the things I’ve heard about her so far have been positive. I don’t know Martin Golando, but people in San Antonio and with connections to the Lege that I respect are all high on him, and that’s good enough for me. The stakes may have been low in that HD118 special election, but Tomas Uresti lost it, and that sure seems like a good reason to support Gabe Farias (also the E-N choice in round one of that special election). Finally, I don’t know the candidates in HD120 (Art Hall ran for Railroad Commissioner in 2008 but finished out of the money in a three-way primary), so I welcome any input from the locals in that race.

One more time for TMF-Menendez

It’s on, again.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Fifteen-year state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Sunday he’ll run for Texas Senate District 26 next year against incumbent José Menéndez.

The March 1 Democratic primary race will pit the same contenders who battled for the seat earlier this year in a special election to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, also D-San Antonio, who gave up the seat in a failed bid for mayor.

Menéndez won that Feb. 17 contest by a 3-2 margin, and it wasn’t long before Martinez Fischer began hinting at a rematch, asserting that Menéndez was too beholden to Republicans who helped him win election.

Sen. Jose Menendez

The same charge was made Sunday when about 200 supporters gathered at a West Side restaurant to hear Martinez Fischer’s declaration, which came on the eve of Monday’s filing deadline for party primary candidates.

Drawing endorsements from U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and state Reps. Roland Gutierrez and Justin Rodriguez, all D-San Antonio, Martinez Fischer vowed to be a fighter for District 26. He said he would use his understanding of the legislative process to ward off GOP-backed measures that he views as harmful to constituents.

Without mentioning him by name, Martinez Fischer said Menéndez “bragged” that he voted for the state budget even though it was inadequate in many areas.

“I doubt he bragged to our public school teachers who work in classrooms that are overcrowded and underfunded. I doubt he bragged to the parents and families who go without insurance, without Medicaid, because they can’t afford the premium or the state cut their services,” Martinez Fischer said.

We’ll see how it goes. I know the conventional wisdom was that Menendez won the special election runoff on the strength of Republican votes, but those votes came on top of a base of Democratic support. The budget is a legitimate issue, but (again, despite the proffered wisdom at the time of the runoff), I can’t think of any other actions by Menendez that stand out as campaign fodder. But hey, that’s why they run the races. TMF’s decision means his HD116 seat will be open, and you can expect a flurry of candidates to sign up for that. One way or another, the San Antonio legislative delegation turns over some more. The Trib and the Rivard Report have more.

Endorsement watch: One Farias, two Farias

There’s one state race on the ballot this year, where there’s a special election in HD118 to succeed the retiring Rep. Joe Farias. The San Antonio Express News has endorsed Gabe Farias in that race.

Gabe Farias

Six candidates — three Democrats and three Republicans — are seeking to replace former Rep. Joe Farias, who stepped down earlier this year. We recommended that voters choose Gabe Farias, a Democrat, as their next state representative in the district that stretches from Somerset across Bexar County’s deep South Side and north to Selma.

Farias is the former representative’s son, but we urge voters to choose him because he brings a solid set of varied credentials to the post.

The 44-year-old Farias has been the president and CEO of the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce since 2012, and the position has given him insight into the needs of small businesses and private enterprise in general. He also ran his own business as a sports marketer.

Additionally, he has served on the staff of two City Council members and worked in the office of state Rep. Roland Gutierrez.

Farias supports efforts to improve and adequately fund public education, and expanding Medicaid to secure federal funding that the state has left on the table. The funds would help provide health care for poor Texans.

See here and here for the background. A full list of the candidates in the race is here; note that Democratic candidate Tomas Uresti is the brother of State Sen. Carlos Uresti, who as it happens was the representative in HD118 before Joe Farias. As the endorsement editorial notes, this race will almost surely go to a runoff, and pretty much everyone involved is also running in next March’s primary. This is a Democratic seat, but it’s close enough that something odd could happen in a special election, though if it did it would likely be reversed in the 2016 general, as happened in the other partisan direction in HD97 in Tarrant County in 2007-2008. The main thing is that if whoever wins the special then goes on to win next November, he will have a leg up in seniority over his fellow freshmen. As usual, I’ll keep an eye on it.

Lone Star Rail updates

From last week, San Antonio City Council gets set to make a financial commitment to the Lone Star Rail line.

San Antonio is expected to make its first financial commitment to building the Lone Star Rail line next week when city council members vote for a budget that includes $500,000 for the project.

[…]

San Antonio Council member Joe Krier says the next step will be an agreement with Lone Star Rail on San Antonio’s financial commitment to the project for the next five years.

Krier says the Alamo City’s annual obligation could rise to $2 million during that initial contract, but there would be protections.

“My concern is that we make sure when we get that agreement that taxpayers in San Antonio are protected, in that we know exactly what we are paying; that there’s a locked-in cap on it, because a lot of these projects fail because of cost; and we need to have an exit ramp that would allow us to bail out if we want to. Lone Star has said they’re comfortable in doing that.”

Krier is a big fan of the rail line. In addition to taking vehicles off the road, he believes the train would make college more affordable for some of the 250,000 students who live along the corridor.

“If Lone Star Rail just picked up 5 percent of those (students) that would be 7,500 students a day. It means a student can live one end of the corridor, attend school in another end of the corridor, and get back in the same day so they can stay at home with their parents,” Krier said.

Krier says city dollars will pay for engineering and administrative costs, and for financial negotiations with Union Pacific. He says Lone Star representatives have assured him there are private investors willing to bankroll capital costs, which include the purchasing of rail cars.

See here for the background. There are still some entities than LSRD intends to hit up for cash, but so far so good for them. This follows on the heels of getting Bexar County to pony up.

Bexar County’s $1.7 billion budget that was approved Tuesday includes $500,000 for the Lone Star Rail District.

While the funding received a green light, no agreements are in place yet, according to a county spokesperson.

Lone Star Rail District Director Joe Black said he’s also asked the City of San Antonio and VIA Metropolitan Transit for start-up funding. The rail agency will also ask for funding from Alamo Colleges, Black said.

Again, so far so good. The real test will be once LSRD has these commitments in hand to start delivering on their own promises. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

The local minimum wage fight

Not quite on the radar here, but it could be.

After years of failed proposals in the Texas Legislature to raise the minimum wage, organizers and advocates for higher hourly wages are going local.

Leaders in two major Texas cities and two large counties will vote soon on raising minimum wages for public employees and, in some cases, for employees of private companies that contract or receive financial incentives from local governments.

In Austin, a minimum wage hike to $13.03 an hour for full-time employees will be up for consideration in September as part of the city’s proposed budget. San Antonio leaders will consider a minimum wage of $13 an hour next month. Bexar County is also poised to increase its minimum wage to $13 an hour, while El Paso County could vote next month to boost pay for its lowest-paid employees to $10 an hour. Minimum wages in those localities currently range from $9.45 to $11.66 an hour.

Local organizers affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation are hopeful all four proposals will be approved, saying they’ve received assurances from city and county officials. But for these advocates, the wins could mean sending a message to state lawmakers who have been unable to garner enough support to raise the minimum wage statewide.

“We just didn’t see anything happening on this in the legislative session. Nothing is going to happen next year … so we decided to work with local public officials in getting something passed,” said Arturo Aguila, the lead organizer for the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization and Border Interfaith organization. “We thought that might send a message to the state legislators that cities across the state are already taking the initiative to do this.”

[…]

State law preempts local governments from setting a city or county-wide minimum wage that could require the private sector to increase wages for the lowest-paid employees, but they can set wage requirements for private-sector contractors that do business with them and for local government employees.

This has left advocates for higher minimum wages to pursue local policies that require private companies that contract or receive financial incentives for local government to follow to same minimum wage standards.

In other words, keep your expectations modest. Texas has no state minimum wage, it enforces the federal $7.25 rate. If that were to go up, a disproportionate number of workers here would benefit; as the story notes, Texas has 5.7 percent of all hourly paid workers earning minimum wage or less, while the national average is 3.9 percent. The prospects of anything changing at the state level are grim or worse; Wendy Davis backed implementing a $10/hour state minimum wage law, but that wasn’t exactly a high profile part of her campaign, and it wouldn’t have gone anywhere in a Republican legislature even if she had won. Local action is the best bet for now, just bear in mind that it can’t affect everyone. Here in Houston, Sylvester Turner spoke in favor of a $15 minimum wage – Adrian Garcia also signed the TOP/SEIU platform to “incentivize living wages”, though there was no specific proposal tied to it – but that position will require some clarity. As the Observer reminds us, “city workers now make at least $12 an hour and are expected to make $13.55 by 2018″. Paying city employees a living wage, and requiring contractors who do business with the city to do the same is a no-brainer. Anything beyond that is a laudable goal with a less-clear path. Getting the discussion started is the first step.

Rep. McClendon to step down

She’ll be missed.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, a San Antonio Democrat and 19-year veteran of the Texas House who tenaciously championed social justice reform, said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election.

McClendon was elected in 1996 to represent East Side voters in House District 120 and has emerged as a fixture in the Legislature as the dean of the Bexar County delegation.

However, McClendon’s health has been an ongoing concern. She was diagnosed in 2009 with stage 4 lung cancer and underwent surgery to remove water from her brain last year.

Her fragile physical state was emphasized during the latest legislative session when she relied on an electric scooter to navigate the Capitol and had noticeable trouble speaking.

In a statement, McClendon said she plans to stay in office until her term expires in December 2016 but that “it is time for someone else to take up the mantle.”

“Although I will not return to the Legislature in 2017,” she said, “I will still be engaged to ensure that the issues I have fought for will have a voice.”

[…]

McClendon has possibly become best known for her quest to have the state study wrongful prison convictions. She achieved the long-time goal during the last legislative session to create a commission to study exonerations, a triumph that helped earn her recognition from Texas Monthly as one of 2015’s best lawmakers.

Lawmakers said McClendon’s presence will be missed.

“Ruth is not only the dean of our delegation, she’s also our Capitol mother. Knowing that she’s not coming back is something that’s going to be hard to overcome,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat. “She’s always been the leader of our delegation, but now its time for her to make sure she’s taking care of her health and her family.”

All respect to Rep. McClendon, who has battled health issues for several years but went out on a high note this session with the passage of that exoneration commission bill. Go read the story at the end of that post linked above; if it doesn’t make you at least a little misty, you might want to adjust your meds. Her departure means that the ten-member Bexar County House delegation will have at least four members who were not there this past January – Rep. Diego Bernal, the successor to Mike Villarreal, who resigned to run for Mayor; Rep. Ina Minjarez, who won a special election for the seat vacated by now-Sen. Jose Rodriguez; and whoever follows the retiring Reps. McClendon and Joe Farias. If the Dems win back HD117 in this Presidential-turnout year, that will be half of the delegation turned over. Getting some new blood is always good, but losing such distinguished veterans is hard. I wish Rep. McClendon all the best as she enters the next phase of her life. The Trib has more.

Family affair in HD118

Two families, actually.

Rep. Joe Farias

The race to replace retiring state Rep. Joe Farias in House District 118 is shaping up to be a contest featuring two well-known San Antonio political families: Farias vs. Uresti.

Farias’ son, Gabe, said he filed paperwork last week with the Texas Ethics Commission to appoint a campaign treasurer in what marks a first official step to laying the groundwork to succeed his father.

Gabe Farias said he’s still weighing his options but is “heavily, heavily leaning towards” a run and expects to formally announce within a month.

“It would have to be something very, very significant at this point for me to say I’m going to pull back,” said Gabe Farias, who serves as the president of the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Facing Farias in the Democratic primary will be someone from the Uresti family. But just which Uresti is still an open question.

Tomas Uresti, a Harlandale Independent School District board trustee and the brother of state Sen. Carlos Uresti, has been eyeing the Farias seat. So has his nephew, local attorney Albert Uresti IV, the son of the county tax assessor-collector.

That creates a Uresti family scenario that has yet to be resolved. A family huddle to hash out who will be the candidate is imminent, Tomas Uresti said.

“We’re going to have that resolved pretty quickly,” he said.

He added: “It is going to be myself or Albert running. A Uresti will definitely be running.”

It should be noted that Sen. Carlos Uresti represented HD118 before Rep. Farias; he won a special election there in May of 1997, and served until 2007, defeating the late Frank Madla in a 2006 primary to move to the upper chamber. I like new blood as much as the next guy, but you know what they say about showing up being a key component to success. There is another person considering a run for this seat – Anthony Alcoser, the director of development at Texas A&M University-San Antonio and a former Harlandale board president – so there may be a broader choice in March. Whoever emerges ought to be able to hold the seat for awhile – President Obama carried it 55-43 over Mitt Romney, and Wendy Davis outscored Greg Abbott 52-46. Whatever the case, may the best candidate win.

San Antonio wants a do-over on Uber and Lyft

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Uber

Mayor Ivy Taylor said Friday that there’s a demand for transportation-network companies in San Antonio and signaled that she wants to work a new deal that would allow Uber and Lyft to restart operations here.

Taylor told the City Council during an all-day retreat that she has directed City Manager Sheryl Sculley to develop a plan for bringing the transportation-network companies, or TNCs, back to San Antonio while the council is on summer break next month. The council met for team-building Friday at Hardberger Park on the North Side.

“We’ve never wanted them to leave,” Taylor said in a Friday interview. “We’ve always wanted Uber and Lyft to be here.”

The ride-hailing firms, however, disagreed. After operating in San Antonio for about a year without regulation, the companies shuttered when the City Council approved policies that the companies found too onerous.

City officials thought they’d come to an agreement with the companies when they approved the updated ordinance, but unresolved concerns over how background checks on drivers would be conducted ultimately drove the companies out of town. The taxi industry lauded the council’s decision, saying “public safety” won the day.

[…]

Lyft

“I am directing the city manager to develop a framework for operating agreements which would allow for TNCs to return to San Antonio during a pilot period,” she said. “This framework will be brought to council for review the second week of August and action thereafter. I have asked Councilman (Roberto) Treviño to be the council representative during this process.

“It is important that we get this issue resolved soon, and I do not want the work to stop during the month of July. Safety will still be a top priority for all of us, and that won’t change.” she said.

Taylor said a data-driven discussion about the merits of the firms’ background checks had been missing from previous discussions. She said she wants to delve deeper into that.

Uber spokeswoman Debbee Hancock said Friday that company officials are looking forward to restarting discussions in San Antonio.

“We are heartened to hear that Mayor Taylor has made it a top priority to bring back ridesharing this summer,” she said. “And we are excited to continue working with the mayor and City Council to make this a reality.”

See here and here for some background. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff is a fan of Uber and Lyft, and the other cities in the county have explored having them operate in the non-SA parts of the county, so there was some pressure on Mayor Taylor beyond the tech/millennial community in town to revisit this. We’ll see what happens. The Rivard Report and the Current have more.