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Carlos Uresti

UT investigating sexual misconduct case against State Sen. Schwertner

Noted for the record.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The University of Texas is investigating an allegation that state Sen. Charles Schwertner sent a sexually explicit image and text message to a graduate student he met at an on-campus event this summer, three senior UT officials with knowledge of the investigation told the American-Statesman.
If the allegation is deemed true, the university would consider banning Schwertner from campus, two of the officials said. The third official said the university is also considering hiring outside legal counsel to investigate further.

Through a spokesman, Schwertner on Tuesday said he “categorically denies any knowledge of the accusations” and plans to cooperate with UT’s investigation.

The student met Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican and a UT alumnus, at an on-campus event to which Schwertner was invited and told him she was interested in working at the Legislature, according to two of the officials. After the event, they exchanged messages on the networking site LinkedIn before moving to text messaging, the two officials said.

During an otherwise professional exchange on networking and career advice, Schwertner abruptly wrote, “I just really want to f—- you,” and sent her an image that appeared to be a picture of his genitals that was taken in the shower, according to a UT official who has seen the exchange and the photo. The image does not include his face, the official said. The Statesman has not seen the photo.

The student told Schwertner that she thought he had acted inappropriately, the officials said, and Schwertner did not respond. The student then reported Schwertner’s behavior to the school, prompting the investigation, they said.

All UT officials interviewed by the Statesman declined to reveal the identity of the student out of respect for her privacy and to honor the promise of confidentiality that the university made to her when she reported the incident. Student privacy laws also prohibit the university from disclosing the student’s name.

The officials, who declined to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, said that the investigation into Schwertner has not found any potentially criminal misconduct.

That’s all we know at this point. I suppose since the crux of this allegation involves text messages, there should be evidence one way or another, to support or refute it. We’ll see what UT finds out, including what if any action the Senate will take in the event the charges are corroborated. I’ll reserve judgment for now, but as someone who called for Sens. Miles and Uresti to step down after the stories about their alleged harassment were published, I’m not likely to be very sympathetic if these charges stick. Oh, and if you’re wondering, Sen. Schwertner is on the ballot in November. His opponent is Meg Walsh. Feel free to get to know her a little better. The Trib has more.

It’s Runoff Day in SD19

This is an important election.

Pete Gallego

The aggressive drive by top Texas Republicans to flip a Democratic-friendly state Senate seat will culminate Tuesday as their candidate, Pete Flores, faces Democrat Pete Gallego in the final round of a special election.

The runoff for Senate District 19 will determine the successor to former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who resigned earlier this year after 11 felony convictions. But the contest also has implications for the balance of power in the upper chamber, where the GOP is heading into the November elections with a tenuous hold on their supermajority.

As a result, GOP leaders have lined up behind Flores, a former state game warden who unsuccessfully challenged Uresti in 2016, and in some cases, activated their own campaign machinery to help him against Gallego. The Democrat is a former congressman from Alpine who previously represented the area for over two decades in the Texas House.

The GOP believes the all-hands-on-deck effort has put the seat within reach.

“We feel good about where we are,” Flores strategist Matt Mackowiak said. “If Republicans turn out on Tuesday, we will win and elect a conservative from SD-19 to the Texas Senate.”

Democrats have also mobilized, well aware of the GOP heavyweights on the other side and the anything-can-happen nature of special elections.

“This is a Democratic district, we expect it to perform like a Democratic district, but we cannot take anything for granted and that’s why we’re working hard,” said Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

See here for the previous update. This is, in a Presidential year, a 10-12 point Democratic district. Not insurmountable, but pretty solid. In a bad year like 2014 was, it’s basically 50-50. Gallego goes into this runoff as the favorite on the numbers, and he’s quite familiar with running in tight circumstances, but it is certainly possible he could lose. If that happens, that would be a big damper on any pro-“blue wave” story line for Texas. Dems collectively did just fine in Round One, outperforming the Presidential year baseline by a couple of points. And for all their big talk, Republicans did everything they could to win without having to run, which suggests that maybe the big talk is just that. As is always the case with special elections and runoffs, it’s all about who shows up. I’ll have the result tomorrow.

Gallego versus Flores in the SD19 runoff

Get set for a noisy runoff.

Pete Gallego

Republican Pete Flores and Democrat Pete Gallego are headed to a runoff in the special election to replace convicted former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Flores led Gallego by 5 percentage points, 34 percent to 29 percent, according to unofficial returns. At 24 percent, state Rep. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio came in third in the eight-way race, and he conceded in a statement. The five other candidates were in single digits, including Uresti’s brother, outgoing state Rep. Tomas Uresti of San Antonio.

The first-place finish by Flores, who unsuccessfully challenged Carlos Uresti in 2016, is a boon to Republicans in the Democratic-leaning district. In the home stretch of the race, he benefited from a raft of endorsements from Texas’ top elected officials including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

[…]

Flores, a former Texas game warden, was the best-known of three Republicans on the ballot Tuesday. He received 40 percent of the vote against Carlos Uresti two years ago in SD-19, which encompasses a 17-county area that starts on San Antonio’s East Side and sprawls hundreds of miles west.

Flores is being given a lot of credit for finishing first and for leading the vote on Tuesday, likely helped by the late endorsements he got from Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. That said, he was (barely) in third place after early voting, and the overall partisan tally was 59.3% to 39.6% for the Democratic candidates combined versus the Republicans. That’s in a district that went for Carlos Uresti 55.9 to 40.4 in 2016 (and Uresti was the best-performing Dem in 2016), and was basically 50-50 in 2014. In other words, Dems outperformed their 2016 baseline by four points (more like seven points if you compare to other races) and outperformed their 2014 baseline by about 19 points. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t look like a bad result to me.

Now of course, the Republicans are going to pour a bunch of money into the runoff, in part because Flores made a decent showing and in part because winning that seat (which won’t come up for election again until 2020) would give them a commanding 21-10 margin in the Senate pending any Democratic pickups this November. This seat has a lot of value, in both real and symbolic terms. Pete Gallego is the favorite, but nothing can be taken for granted here. I don’t know exactly when the runoff will be, but this is the race you need to be paying attention to right now.

Checking in on SD19

Election Day is Tuesday.

Carlos Uresti

Long before the seat opened up here in Texas Senate District 19, state Rep. Roland Gutierrez was traveling the massive district, making friends as far west as Big Bend National Park’s Brewster County in anticipation of the fate that would ultimately meet the embattled incumbent, Carlos Uresti.

Late Thursday morning, though, Gutierrez found himself much closer to home, knocking on doors in the heart of his House district on San Antonio’s southeast side, where he encountered a number of familiar faces. He reminded them he has represented them for 13 years — three as their City Council member, 10 as their state representative.

Gutierrez is going to need all the support he can get in the area Tuesday, when voters head to the polls in the eight-way race to replace Uresti, who resigned last month after being found guilty of 11 felonies including securities fraud and money laundering. Gutierrez’s toughest opponent is fellow Democrat Pete Gallego, who entered the abbreviated special election with loads of name recognition as a former congressman and longtime state lawmaker from West Texas.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that we’re the underdog in this thing,” Gutierrez said in an interview, noting the millions of dollars that have been spent in Gallego’s congressional races building his name ID in the area. “At the end of the day, you need more than that. You need certainly all of the elements of character and integrity and desire, but you’ve got to put in the work.”

Complicating the dynamic between Gallego and Gutierrez is a growing Republican effort to unify behind a single candidate — Pete Flores, who ran against Uresti in 2016 — and send him to a runoff in the Democratic-leaning district. That movement became clearer than ever Thursday when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick jumped into the fray, endorsing Flores over his two lesser-known GOP rivals.

“We feel like we’re likely in the range and we have a good chance to be in a runoff,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist working for Flores. “We’re doing more this week than we’ve ever done.”

[…]

Gutierrez outspent Gallego more than 2 to 1 in the first 21 days of July — $251,000 to $97,000 — working to overcome his disadvantages, according to their latest filings with the Texas Ethics Commission. Part of Gutierrez’s spending went toward a TV buy attacking Gallego as a “career politician,” telling voters they “fired him from Congress, and now he wants to bring his tired ideas to our Texas state Senate.”

Gallego, for his part, is more than okay with being the known entity in the race, a steady presence after the stormy waters of the recent Uresti era. The former state senator was sentenced to 12 years in prison last month in the fraud case, which stemmed from his work with a now-defunct oil field services company that was found to have perpetrated a Ponzi scheme.

“The experience, the roots, the knowledge — all of those, I think, make me the best candidate,” Gallego said in an interview. “I think people want a familiar face. These are really difficult times.”

See here for some background. Carlos Uresti won re-election over Pete Flores in 2016 by a 55.9 to 40.4 margin, and Uresti was the best performer among Democrats. It’s entirely plausible to me that Flores will make it to the runoff, and honestly I’m a little surprised that Republicans hadn’t lined up behind him before now; Patrick’s endorsement came after the end of early voting. A Pete Gallego-Roland Gutierrez runoff is also possible – I’d very much prefer that – but as is always the case with special elections it depends on who shows up. As has been the case with the other two specials so far, this one has felt pretty quiet so far, but a D-versus-R runoff would change that. If you’re in the district, how has this race looked to you?

Early voting in SD19 special election has begun

The summer of elections continues apace.

Carlos Uresti

Monday marks the start of early voting in the July 31 special election to fill the seat for Texas Senate District 19.

It’s been less than one month since Gov. Greg Abbott called a special election to replace Carlos Uresti, who resigned in June after he was convicted on 11 felony charges, including fraud and money laundering, abruptly ending the San Antonio Democrat’s 22-year political career.

Four Democrats, three Republicans, and one Libertarian filed for the opportunity to fill the remainder of Uresti’s term, which ends in 2020.

The race for Senate District 19 includes notable Democrats such as Uresti’s brother State Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-118); State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-119); and former State and U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego. The candidate list also includes Republican Pete Flores, a retired game warden who lost to Carlos Uresti in the 2016 general election.

District 19, which has voted reliably Democratic, stretches from the South, East, and West Sides of San Antonio to the U.S.-Mexico border and West Central Texas.

Observers of this race have tagged Gallego and Gutierrez as the frontrunners.

See here and here for the background. I agree that Gallego and Gutierrez (who has racked up the lion’s share of Democratic endorsements) are the frontrunners, but this district is not so blue that we couldn’t have a D-versus-R runoff. It will be interesting to see what the electorate ends up looking like in this election, which is the first of the three specials this summer to not be in deep red territory. The top candidates in HD13 and CD27 were Republicans, and the results reflected that. Here the top candidates are Democrats, but there are enough other Dems in the race to potentially dilute their strength. We’ll see what we get. Election Day for this race is July 31. If you’re in SD19, leave a comment and let us know what you’re seeing.

Uresti gets 12 years

Harsh, but hardly unfair.

Carlos Uresti

Standing before a federal judge in a San Antonio courtroom on Tuesday afternoon, former state Sen. Carlos Uresti was contrite.

“I truly feel remorseful, ashamed, disappointed, disgraced, angry at myself and sad,” Uresti told the court, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

But shortly after, speaking to reporters outside the courthouse about his plans to appeal a 12-year federal prison sentence he said he does not “believe is fair and just,” the two-decade veteran of the Texas Legislature seemed anything but remorseful.

The sentence he received Tuesday — and the $6.3 million in restitution he’s been ordered to pay to victims of a Ponzi scheme he was convicted of helping carry out — is “just another obstacle,” Uresti said.

“When you’re right, you never give up,” he said. “And we’re right, so we’re not going to give up.”

See here for the background. He still has a second federal trial to undergo in October, so this is not as bad as it may get. I wonder if there was a dawning realization that a multi-year sentence was likely, and that this was what finally got him to resign, four months after his conviction. Whatever the case, and acknowledging that he did do some good things as a Senator, I’m glad he finally stepped down. As to what happens from here, I can’t say I have any feelings about it. The whole affair was sad, but Carlos Uresti is a grown man who made his own choices. He can live with the consequences of those choices.

Eight for SD19

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Carlos Uresti

Eight candidates have filed for the July 31 special election to replace former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, — including his brother, outgoing state Rep. Tomas Uresti, according to the secretary of state’s office.

[…]

Tomas Uresti, who lost a re-election bid during the March primaries, had said over the weekend he was “contemplating” a run for Senate District 19, a massive district that stretches from San Antonio’s East Side to far West Texas and includes parts of the U.S. border with Mexico.

The list of candidates includes two prominent Democrats who were already running for Carlos Uresti’s seat before he resigned: state Rep. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio and former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine. The fourth Democrat who filed is Charlie Urbina Jones, a Poteet attorney who unsuccessfully ran for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District in the 1990s.

The three Republicans who filed are Pete Flores, who unsuccessfully challenged Carlos Uresti in 2016; Jesse “Jay” Alaniz, the former president of the Harlandale ISD board; and Carlos Antonio Raymond, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for House District 117 in March.

The Libertarian candidate is Tony Valdivia, a senior reporting analyst at USAA Bank.

See here for the background. It would have been nice if a female candidate had filed, but I suppose they’re all busy running for other offices. Gotta say, I don’t think the Uresti name is going to be an asset in this race, but anyone can pay the filing fee. The best case scenario is a Gallego/Gutierrez runoff, as far as I’m concerned. If it winds up being a Dem and an Republican, we should try to keep in mind that this race is to fill a seat through 2020, as SD19 is not on the ballot in November. In other words, let’s not screw this up. Early voting starts July 16. Good luck.

Abbott sets July 31 special election date in SD19

One way or another, we’ll have that slot filled in time for the start of the next session.

Carlos Uresti

Gov. Greg Abbott has scheduled a July 31 special election to replace state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Uresti announced his resignation Monday, four months after he was found guilty of 11 felonies. The resignation is effective Thursday.

The filing deadline for the special election is Monday, and early voting will start July 16, according to Abbott’s proclamation. The document also outlines Abbott’s reasoning for calling what is known as an emergency special election, noting Uresti’s District 19 has been “without effective representation” for over a year due to his legal troubles and it is important to fill the seat as soon as possible.

Abbott had the choice of setting the special election for the next uniform election date — Nov. 6 — or at an earlier date. Uresti had asked Abbott to slate the special election at the same time as the Nov. 6 elections, saying it would “save the 17 counties and taxpayers thousands of dollars.”

At least two Democrats are already running to finish Uresti’s term, which ends in 2021: former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine and state Rep. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio. Pete Flores, a Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Uresti in 2016, has also announced a special election run.

See here for the background. Our summer of constant elections continues. Why would Abbott set the date earlier instead of having it in November? Assuming as I do that Abbott is motivated first and foremost by politics, my guess would be that a summer special election, followed most likely by a summer special election runoff, offers the better odds of electing a Republican. SD19 is a Democratic district and I’d expect it to be pretty blue in November, but it went both ways in 2014 and could certainly be competitive in a lower-turnout environment. No guarantee of that, of course, and I’d expect Democrats to be more motivated to vote even in July this year than they were four years ago. Flores lost to Uresti 55.9% to 40.4% in 2016, for what it’s worth. Be all that as it may, this is going to be quite the sprint for the campaigns. Buckle up.

Carlos Uresti resigns

About fscking time.

Carlos Uresti

Finally heeding calls from his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, state Sen. Carlos Uresti announced his resignation Monday, four months after he was found guilty of 11 felonies.

The news comes just over a week before the San Antonio Democrat is set to be sentenced by a federal judge in San Antonio; experts predict his penalty will be 8 to 12 years of prison time. He’s also scheduled for a trial in October on separate fraud and bribery charges.

“As you know, I am in the process of ensuring that justice is served,” Uresti wrote in a statement Monday. “I need to attend to my personal matters and properly care for my family. So, keeping in mind the best interests of my constituents and my family, I believe it to be most prudent that I step down from my elected office to focus on these important issues.”

[…]

His resignation will become effective Thursday.

In his announcement Monday, Uresti asked Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election for the seat on the next uniform election date, which is the general election date in November. Doing so, he said, would save the district’s 17 counties thousands of dollars. The governor’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on timing for the election.

Several Democrats have already lined up to replace Uresti. State Rep. Roland Gutierrez announced his bid for the seat less than a month after the conviction; in early April, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego joined the fray as well.

See here and here for the background. Assuming we do get a November special election, which would join the other November special election(s) that we should get, we can have a replacement for Uresti sworn in and ready to go no worse than January, which is so much better than waiting till after November for a special election to be set. I’m sure there will be others besides Gutierrez and Gallego in the race, and as before I don’t have a preference at this time. Uresti set a low bar to clear, so an upgrade is likely. I for one am very ready for that.

Still waiting for those other special elections

Ross Ramsey returned to a frequent topic a few days ago.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was found guilty of 11 felonies earlier this year. He has not yet faced sentencing and says he will appeal the convictions on charges including money laundering and fraud. He’s not required to quit the Senate in the face of that, but it’s safe to say many of his colleagues are eager to see him go. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stripped him of his committee assignments, and the Senate Democratic Caucus called on him to quit.

The other potential resignation is a happier story: State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, won her party’s nomination to succeed the retiring Gene Green in the U.S. House. It’s a Democratic district, but she’ll face the winner of a Republican primary in November’s election. And in the unlikely event that Garcia were to lose that race, she would still be a state senator; her term in the current job doesn’t end until 2021.

Without putting their names to their words, many of Garcia’s colleagues are hoping she’ll quit early, allowing a replacement to be seated before the Legislature convenes in January.

“A vacancy is never politically helpful, but no one is more harmed than the constituents who are in that district, who have zero representation,” said Harold Cook, a longtime Democratic operative and one-time staffer to the Senate’s Democratic Caucus. “Aside from the fact that it kind of screws with a few majority votes, and that is not unimportant, you’re leaving Texans with no representation — and you don’t have to.”

The idea is that Garcia’s election to Congress is all but certain and that her timely resignation would position Democrats in the Texas Senate at full strength next year, instead of leaving them waiting on a special election to fill her seat. Or Uresti’s seat, for that matter.

Since he wrote that, we have gotten an update on SD06. Also from Ross Ramsey:

A one-seat pickup [in the Senate] would leave the Democrats one vote short of the number needed to force debate. It would also put them in position, if they could hold their own folks together, to block debate by luring one Republican to their side.

Another way to put it: Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats would have any wiggle room — a generally rotten prospect for a group since it empowers any one member to hold an issue hostage by saying, “Do it my way or lose my vote.”

If the Democrats were to win more than one seat now held by Republicans, the Texas Senate would be back in the position it was in for years — when nobody could get an issue to the floor without brokering enough of a compromise to convince a supermajority that the issue is worth hearing.

That’s been used to keep all kinds of things — not all of them partisan, by the way — from coming to the Senate floor for a vote. For a moment, think like one of the swamp creatures; sometimes, it’s safer not to vote on something controversial than it is to take a stand. The three-fifths rule provides a way to either work on a compromise or just walk away without any political bruises.

One needn’t agree with that to appreciate its political value.

But even a big Democratic day in November could leave crafty Republicans with some breathing room. Two Democratic senators who aren’t on the ballot this year — Sylvia Garcia of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio — are contemplating resignation.

Garcia won the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in a district unlikely to elect a Republican to Congress. But she said [last] Thursday, in an interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, that she won’t resign until after the Nov. 6 election. She said she’s doing that out of consideration for the voters and doesn’t want to presume what they’ll do. If she wins and then resigns, it’ll take a special election to replace her — one that would likely leave her seat in the Senate empty for the early days of the legislative session.

Gotta say, I’m disappointed to hear that. I really believed Sen. Garcia would step down in a timely fashion, perhaps after the May 22 primary runoffs, to allow a successor to be in place by January. If she does wait till November to step down, then the Leticia Van de Putte experience kicks in, where the special election is in January and the successor is installed in March; that runoff actually happened in February, but the swearing-in didn’t take place till after the official canvass. As Ramsey goes on to say, even if the Dems have picked up one or more seats, they’d lose the numerical advantage if the Garcia and Uresti seats are empty.

So yeah, the timing up front can have a big effect on the back end, and that’s before we take into account the subsequent vacancies that may be caused by the Garcia and Uresti specials. I appreciate Sen. Garcia’s position. It’s honorable and respectful. It’s also completely impractical, and potentially very damaging. I really, really hope she reconsiders.

Pete Gallego is in for SD19

We now have two intended candidates for what we hope will be a special election.

Pete Gallego

Another candidate signaled plans to enter the race for Senate District 19 on Wednesday, about a month after the San Antonio Democrat who currently holds the seat was convicted of 11 felonies.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat, has filed paperwork to declare a treasurer in a campaign for the position. He’ll make a formal announcement to run in the coming weeks, he confirmed Wednesday morning.

“After receiving numerous calls to action, and talking with my family, I have taken the necessary steps with the Texas Ethics Commission to form my campaign to represent the people of the Senate District 19,” he said. “I’ve been overwhelmed with the support pouring out from this entire community.”

Gallego had been rumored to be a likely candidate for the race, which so far includes state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio.

Like Rep. Gutierrez, Gallego is “in” in the sense that he intends to run when the disgraced Sen. Carlos Uresti finally resigns. Which, again and to be clear, should have already happened by now and cannot happen soon enough. If Uresti has any decency at all, he will recognize the need to have someone serving the people of SD19 when the gavel bangs in January. That means a special election no later than this November. I don’t know what we can do to make him realize that, but I sure hope we figure it out.

Rep. Gutierrez is in for SD19

Whenever that election may be.

Rep. Roland Gutierrez

State Rep. Roland Gutierrez is running for Texas Senate District 19, a Democratic-leaning San Antonio district that overlaps with his own.

The only problem: That seat is still held by state Sen. Carlos Uresti, who has resisted calls to resign from Democrats and Republicans alike since he was convicted weeks ago of 11 felonies. And there isn’t an election set for the seat until 2020.

[…]

Gutierrez told a crowd in San Antonio Saturday that he’s been traveling SD-19 since early last year and has “become aware there’s a greater community in need” beyond his House district.

“I can’t stand by here in good conscience while they wait,” Gutierrez said, speaking in front of a large sign promising “New Energy. New Ideas.” “I’m officially declaring my candidacy for the 19th senatorial district.”

Gutierrez acknowledged there’s a lot “up in the air” about the future of the seat, but he said whether the next election arrives in “2020 or sooner, we are ready, willing and able to be your next senator.”

See here and here for the background. Rep. Gutierrez isn’t the only person interested in the seat, of course – I fully expect there will be a multitude when it comes open – but he is now officially the first person to announce for it. I figure there has to be some advantage to that. As to when the election may be, you know my preference – the sooner the better. Unfortunately, that’s up to Sen. Uresti. I don’t know if having an official candidate seeking his seat will put pressure on him to resign, but I sure hope it does.

Just so we’re clear, Sen. Carlos Uresti needs to resign

Any time soon works for me.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

Last Thursday, a jury convicted Uresti, who represents Senate District 19, on 11 felony counts, including fraud and money laundering, for his work with a defunct frac-sand company. In addition, he has a separate public-corruption case hanging over him.

Uresti has been stripped of his Senate committee assignments and ostracized by his fellow Senate Democrats. He’s stranded on an island, both legally and politically.

Uresti is evaluating his options at the moment, but it seems all but inevitable that he will step down from the Senate this year.

Even though he is legally entitled to keep his seat while he navigates his way through the appeals process, no constituent deserves to be represented by a lawmaker who is behind bars (as Uresti is likely to be after his scheduled sentencing in June).

In the coming months, he will surely feel pressure from Democratic Party leadership, who don’t want to see a potential blue-wave election hampered by the stench of corruption.

[…]

State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, has been open about his ambitions for the seat. In a sense, Gutierrez has been campaigning for it since federal agents raided Uresti’s law office a year ago.

Former Congressman Pete Gallego also has privately indicated to friends that he wants the seat, according to multiple sources. He also has been turning up over the past few days at San Antonio political events.

[…]

Political buzz in Senate District 19 also has surrounded City Councilman Rey Saldaña — who will be term-limited out of the council next year — and state Rep. Phil Cortez.

See here for the background. I sure hope he’ll conclude that he needs to step down, and the sooner the better. We need to get his successor into office, and doing so in time for the next session in January would be nice. I don’t have any particular preference for any of the potential candidates named in this story, but given the other issues surrounding Uresti, maybe – hear me out now – we could find a lady candidate to rally around. Just a thought.

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.

Senate has a hearing on its sexual harassment policy

The babiest of baby steps.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

There has only been one official sexual harassment complaint in the Texas Senate since 2001, the secretary of the Senate said Thursday.

The Senate Administration Committee debated possible ways to revise current sexual harassment policy Thursday. The meeting comes a week after online publication The Daily Beast reported on multiple alleged instances of sexual misconduct by Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, both Democrats.

The news outlet based its accounts on interviews and communications with an unnamed female political consultant, current and former legislative employees and current and former journalists. An unnamed Democratic state representative corroborated one of the women’s stories, it said.

After the report, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the head of a Senate panel that handles internal matters, whether the chamber is doing all it should to shield lawmakers and Senate employees from lurid and “inappropriate behavior.”

Senators quizzed secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw and director of human resources Delicia Sams on what current policy dictates for people complaining of sexual harassment and people accused of sexual harassment.

Spaw confirmed that the single official sexual harassment complaint in the Senate she received did not involve a lawmaker. She also said she knows there have been instances where chiefs of staff deal with “inappropriate conduct” within a senator’s office.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is not a member of the Senate Administration Committee but attended Thursday’s hearing, expressed surprise at Spaw’s number. The Houston Democrat cited media reports that led her to believe sexual harassment was a bigger problem than official records may show.

“There’s got to be a flaw in our system if people feel more free to talk to the press than they do to us,” Garcia said. “And it has to be a process that’s open and that’s independent, and one that’s going to ensure fairness and accountability to anyone who’s accused no matter who they are.”

Senators who are accused of sexual harassment will be dealt with according to the severity of their actions, Sams explained. For instance, if a senator made an inappropriate comment, the secretary of the Senate would talk to him or her about it. If the offense was worse, the secretary would then take the complaint to the Senate Administration Committee and lieutenant governor to how to proceed.

While the recent reporting about rampant sexual harassment at the Capitol came up, no one was mentioned by name. The Chron adds on.

During Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers learned that while the Senate offers sexual harassment prevention training once every two years, not all Senators and their staffs get the training. It is mandatory training for the staff of the secretary of the Senate and for the lieutenant governor’s office. But individual senators and their staffs do not have to attend the training.

Also, lawmakers got assurances from the Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw that there is no secret fund to pay out sexual harassment claims in Texas as was the case in Congress. In addition, she said that as far as she knew, there have been no payments made to settle sexual harassment claims since she became the Secretary of the Senate in 2001.

Spaw assured lawmakers that her office takes any issues on the topic with sincerity.

“I know I have always taken it seriously,” Spaw said.

After the hearing, Spaw said some individual Senate offices may have handled sexual harassment issues on their own but she did not provide details. She said the only formal complaint handled by her office was in 2001, but she refused make public details of that case. She only said people lost their jobs and it was an issue between staff members and didn’t involve elected senators.

One of the problems with the current system is that there is no accountability or reporting procedure for how individual Senate offices are handling sexual harassment issues, Garcia said.

“No one is tracking those numbers,” she said.

That seems like a pretty obvious place to begin. You can’t hope to fix something that you can’t measure. Of course, you have to have a reliable reporting system to get good data first. The House just updated its policies, so maybe that’s a place for the Senate to start.

And for now at least that may be all we’re going to get. No one is willing to talk about the specific people who have been named as a part of the problem just yet. I can think of a variety of possible explanations for that, but the one I’m settling on is that there isn’t enough pressure on anyone to talk in anything but generalities. Our attention is split a million ways – I mean, the national scene is dumpster fires everywhere you look – and partly because of that our state scandals tend to have a much harder time penetrating the consciousness. I don’t know what exactly it will take for this to become a higher profile issue. I just know that at some point, perhaps when we least expect it, it will become one. The Observer and the Current have more.

So now that names have been named, now what?

Maybe some hearings? I don’t know.

Texas leaders called for a review of sexual harassment policies at the state Legislature following a Texas Tribune story detailing how current procedures offered little protection for victims and describing a wide range of harassment at the Capitol. The Texas House approved changes to its policy last week. The Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst to lead a review of the chamber’s policy, has yet to hold any public hearings on the matter.

“These are serious allegations that have been denied by the senators,” Patrick said in a statement responding to the calls for resignation Thursday, adding that he had asked Kolkhorst to “determine if there are additional steps we should take.”

“I know she has been meeting with senators and staffers over the past several weeks and I expect that she will post a hearing notice soon to be sure that we are doing all we can to make sure every staff member and every elected official is protected from sexual harassment and all other inappropriate behavior,” Patrick said.

Earlier today, state Sen. José Rodríguez, chairman of the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said the behavior alleged in the Daily Beast article is “unacceptable” in any situation, but especially so for an elected official.

“Any person in a position of power who engages in such deplorable conduct should be fired or removed,” he said in a statement before Annie’s List announced their call for resignation.

State Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said in a statement that she finds the recent stories in the media “very alarming.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when people feel their only option is talking to the press,” she said.

Rodríguez and Garcia both called for independent investigations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol. The Texas Tribune previously reported that those in charge of investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints have little to no authority over lawmakers. Garcia said she is also calling for a hotline to report abuse.

“As this discussion continues at both the national and state levels, I applaud those who have come forward and encourage more women to continue shedding light on the culture of many of our industries and institutions, including the legislature, so we can create a culture shift where these incidents can be fully investigated, and hopefully, prevented,” Rodríguez said.

See here for the background. Since this story was published, Sen. Kolkhorst has agreed to hold a public hearing, on December 14. Details are here. According to Equality Texas, testimony is by invitation only, but the hearing is open. What if anything will come out of this is unclear, but it’s something.

I want to add that since that Daily Beast story was published, two friends of mine have posted on Facebook about their experiences with Sen. Miles. One reported that Miles “grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth”, the other said “I was “hugged” so closely, for so long and so…ummm….thoroughly (??) that I joked with one of my colleagues upon recounting the incident that I might ought to take a pregnancy test”. I’m not naming them because I didn’t ask them if I could name them here, but as I said they’re both friends of mine. I have no doubt that there are plenty of others with similar stories. This isn’t going away, and no number of complaints about anonymous allegations or “powerful enemies” will change the fact that there are real women out there with real stories to tell. What are we going to do about that? You know what I think. We need to know what our leaders think.

That sexual harassment day of reckoning in Texas politics has begun

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Senate passes “driverless car” bill

This is a first.

Sen. Kelly Hancock

Texas took a step toward self-driving vehicles zipping up and down its highways and streets under a first-of-its-kind measure approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.

Approved by a 31-0 vote, Senate Bill 1622 would implement minimum safety standards for so-called “autonomous vehicles” and “automated driving systems” — the first time the new technology will be regulated in the Lone Star State.

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, said oversight is needed to ensure the rapidly-evolving technology — some of which involve human navigators and others that are fully automated — remains safe on Texas streets and highways.

He said the legislation defines “automated driving system” to mirror current requirements of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has set nationwide safety standards.

The bill also pre-empts local officials in Texas from imposing their own rules or requiring a franchise for companies to operate autonomous vehicles — the latest such measure approved in this legislative session to curb local regulations on a variety of issues.

Owners of “autonomous” vehicles would have comply with state registration and title laws and follow traffic and motor-vehicle laws; the vehicles must be equipped with a data-recording system, meet federal safety standards and have insurance.

In the event of an accident, the “autonomous” vehicle immediately would have to stop and notify the proper authorities.

The bill number listed in the story is incorrect – SB1622 is a completely different piece of legislation, authored by Sen. Carlos Uresti, though as you can see it too passed the Senate on Thursday. The correct bill appears to be SB2205. As noted before, this is the third session in which a driverless car bill has been introduced. A bill by then-Sen. Rodney Ellis in 2015 failed to pass after being opposed by Google. Either Google has changed its tune, or this bill satisfied its objections from last time, or this time the Senate didn’t care, I can’t tell. A similar House bill has not yet received a hearing, so if this is going anywhere, it will surely be via Hancock’s SB2205.

As for the by now standard pre-emption of local regulations, at least in this case I’d say it’s appropriate. The state has been the regulator of vehicles in the past and has the infrastructure in place to deal with those regulations. My fear is that we’re creating a new norm here, and that bills that don’t contain local pre-emption clauses are going to be seen as the exceptions. Be that as it may, this bill overall seems like a good idea. We’ll see what happens to it in the House.

Senate proposes to make our tax system more broken

That’s what this will surely do.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday approved a controversial bill that seeks to curb the growth in property taxes that local government agencies like cities and counties levy on landowners.

Senate Bill 2, which passed in an 18-12 vote, could require taxing entities to hold an election if the amount of operating and maintenance funds they plan to collect from property taxes is, in general, 5 percent more than what they took in the previous year.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s bill has split scores of Texas homeowners and the local officials that they elect. Landowners and some government officials say the bill is needed to slow the increase in property tax bills they must pay every year.

Bettencourt, R-Houston, said from the Senate floor Tuesday that many homeowners are seeing increases of 8 percent to 10 percent in what they pay in property taxes each year. He said commercial property owners are repeatedly seeing 15 percent to 20 percent hikes.

“I for one don’t want to continue to climb the ladder above states like Illinois and New York,” Bettencourt said.

But many local and state officials say the Legislature is sidestepping the real issue that leads to rising tax bills: school districts levying more in property taxes because lawmakers won’t change the state’s system for funding education. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, conceded that point on Tuesday.

“It’s a fine balance between respecting our local elected officials and having an understanding that we still have a lot of work to do,” she said.

Critics of the bill say it glosses over the fact that an election could be triggered when the actual tax rate remains flat because rising property values play a major role in calculating the election trigger. Many local officials also say the bill would threaten their ability to hire police officers, build new parks and fill potholes.

Many police and fire chiefs from across the state testified against the bill last week.

“What do I tell them?,” State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, said Tuesday morning.

“Vote against the people who voted for this turd” would be my advice. One of the good things that has come out of the HISD recapture saga is the increased awareness of the Legislature’s addiction to local property tax revenues as a way of not only easing their own financial responsibilities, but also providing the godsend of being able to blame the whole mess on the local officials who have been left holding the bag. It just doesn’t get any sweeter than that. At least now some people have begun to recognize the con job for what it is, though it’s a long way from becoming a rallying cry. As with many things, we’ll see what happens with this in the House.

One more thing:

Bill proponents say that the automatic election would allow for more local control because it puts more power in the hands of voters.

What’s that you say? Local control?

As local control battles rage at the Texas Capitol, Gov. Greg Abbott is voicing support for a much more sweeping approach to the issues that have captured headlines.

“As opposed to the state having to take multiple rifle-shot approaches at overriding local regulations, I think a broad-based law by the state of Texas that says across the board, the state is going to preempt local regulations, is a superior approach,” Abbott said Tuesday during a Q-and-A session hosted by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, an Austin-based think tank.

Such an approach, Abbott added, “makes it more simple, more elegant, but more importantly, provides greater advance notice to businesses and to individuals that you’re going to have the certainty to run your lives.”

Abbott made the remarks in response to a moderator’s question about legislation this session that would “prohibit any local ordinance from exceeding the standard set by the state.”

In other words, local control when we let you have it, or make you have it, but not when we don’t. The Observer has more.

FBI and IRS raid Sen. Carlos Uresti’s office

That’s never a good thing.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

FBI and IRS agents raided the San Antonio law offices of state Sen. Carlos Uresti on Thursday morning — confiscating documents and other items.

A law enforcement source told the the San Antonio Express-News, which first reported the raid Thursday, that it was connected to Uresti’s involvement with a now-bankrupt fracking sand company that he held a financial stake in.

“Law enforcement agents with IRS and FBI are lawfully present conducting a law enforcement operation,” FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee told the Texas Tribune. “No further details have been released at this time.”

Lee confirmed that no arrests had been made.

Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat and personal injury attorney, has been entwined in a complicated saga involving FourWinds Logistics, which sold sand used in hydraulic fracturing, a process that extracts oil and gas from shale rock.

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

[…]

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.

On Nov. 4, four days before Election Day, Eric Nelson, the former marketing director for FourWinds, was indicted for his role in an alleged scheme to defraud investors. He later pleaded guilty to one felony charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Federal attorneys accused Nelson of altering company bank statements to “grossly” inflate its account balance. At least two more former FourWinds employees have been indicted since the election: Shannon Smith, who held a 48 percent stake in the company, and Laura Jacobs, who worked as its comptroller. They face similar charges to Nelson’s.

FourWinds had paid Uresti to attract investors before it filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in August 2015 — beset by allegations of fraud and misused funds.

It could be that this action by the FBI and IRS was to collect evidence for the case against FourWinds and its executives. If that’s all it is, and Uresti himself is not implicated in anything criminal, then this will be as bad as it gets for him, and the news will fade in time. If not, well, he’ll probably wind up having something in common with Ken Paxton. I hope for his sake it doesn’t come to that, but we’ll see. A statement from Sen. Uresti can be found here, and the Current has more.

More Congressional seats are likely on the way

If current trends continue, that is.

Texas could pick up two, perhaps three, new congressional seats following the 2020 decennial Census if current population growth continues through the decade, political and demographic experts said Thursday.

With continued growth in Texas’ four major metropolitan areas, they said, the state could almost match the gains it made in political representation after the 2010 Census, when it added four seats in Congress.

The Houston metropolitan area has led the way this decade, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday, potentially positioning the area for two additional seats in fast-growing Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.

The San Antonio area likely would be at the top of the list for an additional congressional seat, as well, said state demographer and University of Texas at San Antonio professor Lloyd Potter.

All told, the state’s largest metro areas – anchored in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio – added about 400,000 people last year, more than any other state in the country.

[…]

The greater Houston area, which includes The Woodlands and Sugar Land, added about 159,000 residents between July 2014 and July 2015, while the second-fastest-growing Texas metro area, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, saw an increase of 145,000.

The state’s population growth was led by Latinos in the last decade, Potter said, a trend that has accelerated.

“I can see areas that, maybe historically, were largely non-Hispanic white shifting and becoming more integrated in terms of having people of Hispanic descent, Asian and even African-American in them,” Potter said.

Under those circumstances, it could become increasingly difficult for Republicans, who will control the state legislature for the foreseeable future, to draw the new congressional and state district lines in ways that favor their party.

In the short term, given the party’s firm grip on power in Texas, growth in the state will favor the GOP, but that political calculus cannot last in the long-term, according to Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“There simply aren’t enough bodies to go around to draw what we might call safe Republican districts,” Stein said. “Nonetheless, I think Republicans will find a way to advantage themselves, particularly in the statehouse. But increasingly, what you’re going to find is a black and Hispanic population become an obstacle to drawing districts.”

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. As I said before, let’s wait and see what the next estimates have to say, because things could slow down considerably before the actual Census takes place if the oil and gas industry is still in a slump. There’s also the matter of that pesky never-ending litigation spawned by the 2011 redistricting (technically, we’re fighting over the 2013 maps), which if nothing else may offer some direction on how the GOP might proceed in 2021. With all that said, here are a few thoughts:

– If trends continue and Texas does get three new Congressional seats, I fully expect two of them to be drawn as Republican districts. Never mind that it was almost entirely growth in the minority population drove the increase – that didn’t matter to the Republican map-drawers in 2011, and it won’t matter to them in 2021 unless they are forced to take it into consideration by the courts. Even then, the only scenario under which I see more than one Democratic district being drawn is if the Republicans conclude that they can’t draw any more GOP districts without putting their incumbents at risk.

(I will stipulate here that the Democrats thought this way when they were in charge, too, and that we’d be having a different conversation now if we had some kind of independent redistricting commission in place. That ain’t gonna happen, and I will further stipulate that it won’t happen if by some miracle the Dems seize control of the Lege in 2021. Let’s keep our eye on the ball that is actually in play.)

– I fully expect the Republicans to try once again to draw Lloyd Doggett out of a district. They tried in 2003, they tried in 2011, why wouldn’t they try in 2021? Death, taxes, and Lloyd Doggett has a target on his back in redistricting.

– You can also be sure that they will try to make CD23 as Republican-friendly as possible. That district is one of the few that is still under dispute in the ongoing litigation, and if there’s one lesson to be taken from the 2011 experience it’s that whatever egregious thing you do in drawing the maps, you’re going to get at least two cycles of benefit from it before any corrections are made, so why not go for broke? That will be the case in 2021, and assuming President Trump doesn’t dissolve Congress in his second term, I’d bet it’s a point of contention in 2031, too.

– Moving on to other entities, I wonder if the Republicans will try to do to Kirk Watson in the Senate what they’ve tried to do to Doggett in Congress. It amazes me that Travis County has pieces of so many Congressional districts in it – I joked back in 2011 that if the GOP could have figured out a way to put a piece of all 36 Congressional districts in Travis County they would have – all but one of which is held by a Republican, yet the large majority of SD14 is in Travis County, and the large majority of Travis County is represented by good old liberal Watson. Maybe it’s harder to stick a shiv in a colleague than some chump in Washington, I don’t know. But if SD14 survives more or less intact in 2021, I will begin to wonder just what Sen. Watson has on his fellow Senators.

– I also wonder if SD19, which has a lot of overlap with CD23, might get tinkered with in a way that would make it more of a district that could be won by either party based on whether or not it’s a Presidential year. SD19 isn’t that heavily Democratic, though Sen. Uresti survived 2010 intact and is on a Presidential cycle this decade. There’s less pressing a need for this from a GOP perspective since the two thirds rule was killed, and there’s still that pesky litigation and the queasiness they may feel about knifing a colleague, but hey, a seat’s a seat.

– The GOP will likely try to make SD10 a little redder, and if they think about it, they might take a look at SD16, too. That district can be pretty purple in Presidential years (it’s on a non-Presidential cycle this time around), and with a less-congenial member in place now than John Carona was, it could be a tempting target. Major surgery isn’t required to shore it up, just a little nip and tuck. Just a thought.

– As for the State House, the two main questions for me are whether Harris County will get 25 members again, and if Dallas County, which lost two seats in 2011, will get one or more back. We won’t know the answer to these questions until the Redistricting Committee gets down to brass tacks in 2021.

– The ongoing litigation is as much about the State House as it is Congress, though in both cases the number of districts currently in dispute is small. As with the Congressional districts, I fully expect that the same fights will occur over the same places, which includes the places where the court ruled against the plaintiffs initially. Some of those places – western Harris County (HD132), Fort Bend (HD26), the Killeen/Fort Hood area (HD54) – could support districts that are tossup/lean Dem right now if one were inclined to draw such things. I suspect that battleground will be bigger in 2021.

– Since the debacle of 2010, much has been written about the decline of Anglo Democrats in the Lege. That number has dipped again, thanks to the retirement of Rep. Elliott Naishtat and subsequent primary win by Gina Hinojosa. What could at least temporarily reverse that trend is for Dems to finally win a couple of the swingy Dallas County seats that are currently held by Republicans, specifically (in order of difficulty) HDs 114, 115, and 102. (HDs 105 and 107 are far closer electorally, but checking the candidateswebsites, the Dems in question are both Latinas.) Longer term, if the Dems can make themselves more competitive in suburban areas, that number will increase. This is a corollary of Mary Beth Roger’s prescription for Texas Dems, and it’s something that needs more emphasis. Texas Dems ain’t going anywhere till we can be a credible electoral threat in suburban counties. Our pre-2010 caucus was bolstered by the presence of legacy rural incumbents. We’re not winning those seats back any time soon. The good news is that we don’t need to. The opportunities are elsewhere. The bad news is that we haven’t figured our how to take advantage of it, and it’s not clear that we’re putting that much effort into figuring it out.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

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: 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.

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.

Van de Putte update

Senator Leticia Van de Putte was at an Annie’s List event for Sen. Wendy Davis in San Antonio on Monday, and while the attention was on Davis, everyone wanted to know what was up with Van de Putte, too.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Davis has encouraged Van de Putte to run for lieutenant governor, but the San Antonio senator insists that she’s weighing her options.

“Very soon,” Van de Putte said about making a decision, although several sources said she would join the race. One guest at the luncheon, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Van de Putte told supporters she didn’t want to distract from Davis’ event.

“She said that she was waiting for after this luncheon. … But she inferred she was running,” the source said.

I have three words: Run, Leticia, run! I don’t think there’s anything more I can add to that. The story also says that Sen. Carlos Uresti is hoping to make a decision before Thanksgiving about whether he will run for Attorney General. That would make that race a contested one, as Sam Houston is already in. For that matter, if VdP jumps in as we hope she will, she will also face a Democratic opponent in Maria Alvarado. It’s fine by me if there are some contested Dem primaries, as I’d like to have our candidates out there engaging voters from the get go. But first we need to finalize the lineup.

Kinky for Ag Commish, Sam Houston (maybe) for AG

One and a half candidate announcements to note from the weekend. First, from the Trib, is the quadrennial appearance of Kinky Friedman.

Bi-polar and tri-partisan

Singer, songwriter, novelist, humorist and former Independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman will run for the Democratic nomination to be the state’s next agriculture commissioner.

A formal announcement is expected on Monday.

This will not be Friedman’s first bid for statewide office. In addition to running for governor as an Independent in 2006, he ran unsuccessfully for agriculture commissioner in the Democratic primary in 2010. He expects this cycle to be different, in part because of the excitement surrounding state Sen. Wendy Davis at the top of the Democratic ticket.

“The better Wendy does, the better we will do,” he said. “And we will also be able to bring a lot of Independent voters and people who have never voted before.”

Though no Democrat has won statewide office in nearly two decades, Friedman predicted that this cycle could be “very winnable” — if the party can attract non-traditional voters.

Friedman, who describes himself as “an old time Harry Truman Democrat,” had been mulling a gubernatorial bid. He previously expressed interest in promoting the legalization of marijuana and casino gambling in Texas. On Saturday, he said that the two issues would remain a part of his platform as a candidate for ag commissioner, especially the idea that the state should “legalize, cultivate, tax and regulate marijuana.”

“It could be an economic engine for the state, enabling us to do whatever we want to do,” he said.

Ag Commish isn’t one of the offices I suggedted Kinky run for when he popped up again like one of those inflatable clown dolls, but what the hell. At least it’s an office for which Dems didn’t currently have a candidate. PDiddie makes the case for Kinky based on the issues he wants to emphasize, while BOR reminds us of the reasons to be skeptical. For now, I see this as PDiddie does, a low-cost gamble with some upside. Friedman doesn’t help diversify the ticket, and we’ll all hold our breath every time he’s in the vicinity of a microphone, but if he can stay focused on the issues he says he cares about, it’ll be all right. I hope. Texpatriate has more.

Meanwhile, the Lone Star Project brings news of a possible announcement.

Sam Houston Likely to Announce for Texas AG
Respected Texas attorney was a top vote getter in 2008

As expected, Senator Wendy Davis’ announcement that she is running for Texas Governor is encouraging other strong, qualified Democrats to run statewide. The Lone Star Project has learned that highly respected Houston attorney, Sam Houston, will likely soon announce his candidacy for Texas Attorney General.

Sam Houston’s background is law, not politics
Apart from having about the best ballot name any Texan might imagine, Sam Houston is a respected, highly competent attorney with deep roots in Texas. With more than 25 years of experience practicing law, Sam would enter the AG’s office with more than twice the experience as a practicing attorney than Greg Abbott when he became Attorney General. Unlike Abbott and John Cornyn, who were political appointees and professional Republicans before becoming AG, Sam Houston would bring practical experience advocating for clients in the court room.

Sam was born and raised in Colorado City in west Texas (about halfway between Abilene and Midland). His Dad owned a small auto supply/hardware store where Sam often worked. He went on to get his college degree at UT and then earned his law degree at Baylor. Sam lives in Houston with his wife, Jantha and their two children.

Abbott, as Texas AG, has been the counsel to cronies
As Texas AG for over a decade, Greg Abbott has turned the office into a legal advocacy organization for partisan politics and doling out special favors to political friends and donors.  Recently, the Lone Star Project detailed how Abbott looked the other way while some of his top donors bilked the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) of millions of dollars in tax funded grant awards.  This follows a long history of Abbott taking the side of special interests over Texas citizens.

A top vote getter in 2008
Sam was a Democratic nominee for the Texas State Supreme Court in 2008.  Despite the fact that virtually all resources for statewide candidates were diverted for local candidates and out-of-state national races, Sam received over 3.5 million votes – more than any other Texas Democratic candidate on the ballot in 2008.

It’s not official, but…
Don’t be surprised if Sam Houston files to run for the Democratic nomination to become Texas Attorney General.

It may not be official, but it seems highly unlikely that Matt Angle et al would risk making a fool of himself like this if it were anything but a matter of timing or paperwork at this point. Sens. Carlos Uresti and Jose Rodriguez have also been mentioned as possibilities, and I suppose either or both could still jump in; they’re not otherwise on the ballot till 2016, so it’s a free shot. I think Sam Houston would be a strong candidate – he’s well-qualified, unlike many other people running on both sides he has statewide candidate experience, he can probably raise a few bucks, and I do think being named “Sam Houston” is likely to be beneficial to him – so I’ll be happy if this possibility turns into a sure thing.

Democratic ballot update

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte:

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte of San Antonio is exploring a run in 2014 as the Democratic challenger in the lieutenant governor’s race, but she said there is still a lot to consider.

“We’ve really had so many family losses, so first and foremost my concerns are with my family,” she said.

Van De Putte has seen her share of losses since the start of this summer — first the death of baby grandson, then her father died in a car accident and recently her mother-in-law passed away.

[…]

Van De Putte is re-grouping this week to discuss her role in the 2014 statewide elections and — like many other Democrats considering higher office — waiting for state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth to officially announce her decision about running for governor, which is set to happen Oct 3, the official date Democrats can file for a statewide election.

Sen. Carlos Uresti:

This time it’s state Sen. Carlos Uresti, who said he is mulling a run for the attorney general’s office in 2014 and considers himself a perfect fit for the job.

“With my experience as an attorney of 20 years, my experience as a legislator of 16 years — including my experience as officer in the Marine Corps — I think gives me some of the skills to fill that position,” he said.

[…]

Uresti said the attorney general’s office should not be a partisan office that only concerns itself with legal battles with the federal government.

Uresti said his decision doesn’t hinge on whether or not state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth decides to run for governor and he will make a decision and announce his plans in early November.

If he runs, Uresti said one top of his top priorities as attorney general would be to go after “dead-beat” parents who don’t pay their child support.

According to Robert Miller, Sen. Jose Rodriguez is also thinking about running for AG. Sen. Rodriguez is closer to my personal ideal for that job, but as long as one of them runs, I’ll be happy.

And as for the main event, we’ll find out next week.

Amid widespread reports that she plans to run for Texas governor, state Sen. Wendy Davis on Thursday released details about the announcement of her future plans next week.

Davis will make the announcement at 3 p.m. on Oct. 3 in the auditorium where she received her high school diploma in 1981 — the Wiley G. Thomas Coliseum in Haltom City. Davis had previously announced the date, but until Thursday she had not given details about the time or location.

Politico reported Thursday that Davis is telling top Democrats she is running for governor, though she and aides are declining to confirm anything with their names attached to it.

“Next week join your friends and neighbors for the moment when I announce what I plan to do next,” Davis said in an email blast to supporters.
 “We’ll be gathering at the same coliseum where I received my high school diploma — and I really want you to be there with me.”

It’s hard to imagine she’s announcing for anything but Governor. I guess nothing is impossible, but any other office would be a ginormous anticlimax. And once Davis has announced, we can hopefully get the rest of the ticket filled in. We need candidates for Ag Commissioner and Railroad Commissioner – I wouldn’t mind a more prominent name for Comptroller, but we do have someone – and of course the Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court. If Wendy Davis is on top of the ticket, we have no excuse for leaving any slot blank.

More Democratic statewide possibilities

From this story about Democratic hopes for Wendy Davis’ presumed gubernatorial candidacy comes these tidbits about who else might be on the ticket with her.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, told Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia this month that he is seriously considering a run for attorney general.

“Politics is about timing,” Uresti said. “And I certainly think it’s the right time for the Democratic Party and for myself, as well.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said he is planning to file for re-election but, on the other hand, is “listening and entertaining” the idea of a statewide run.

“I have expressed some hesitancy to look at a statewide campaign for me in 2014, but politics is when timing and opportunity collide,” Fischer said. “And I also recognize that you cannot want change if you’re not willing to be the agent of that change.”

Other candidates being courted by Democrats to make the leap are state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who has more than a million dollars in his campaign account, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. The three officials did not return calls for comment.

Some of these names have come up before, but this is the first time I can recall Sen. Uresti being in the conversation. I’m still mad at him for selling out on the sonogram bill in 2011, but it goes without saying that he’d be about a billion times better than anyone from the clown show on the GOP side of the house. Sen. Uresti is not up for election next year, so he can run for AG without giving up his seat, which is good. He has $70K on hand in his July finance report, which would need work. While I’d be happy to support Sen. Uresti’s candidacy if he runs, I have to say that Rep. Martinez-Fischer is much closer to my ideal for an AG candidate, at least in terms of temperament. But as I said in that other post, and as much as I admire his willingness to put his money where his mouth is, I think we still need that fighting spirit and tactical know-how in the House. It’s exactly people like Sen. Uresti – and Sen. Rodney Ellis, who I’m going to keep mentioning even if I’m the only one doing so – who have no election next year to worry about that need to step up. Kudos to him for being willing to do so.

One more thing from that story:

“Wendy Davis would not be able to help no-name Democrats for lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general, but if you had recognizable names with their own accomplishments, you could get a cumulative, positive effect,” said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

Jillson said it’s more likely Democrats will pick up a healthy number of state House seats than a statewide post in 2014, but “that’s where you start.”

“When you’re zero for 100, you start looking for singles rather than home runs,” Jillson said.

This is true. We want to win, but we have to move the ball down the field, if you can stomach another sports metaphor. Everyone has a role to play, beginning with but certainly not ending with the candidates.

Senate begins omnibus abortion bill hearings

Remember, it’s all about women’s health.

Senate Bill 1, and its companion, House Bill 2, would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization and recognize that the state has a compelling interest to protect fetuses from pain; require doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the facility; require doctors to administer the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 in person, rather than allow the woman to take it at home; and require abortions — including drug-induced ones — to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers.

[…]

The House will consider HB 2 on Tuesday. Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, indicated that the committee would wait to vote on that version of the legislation, which means, it’s likely that the legislation would reach the Senate floor for debate on Thursday. If the House and Senate approve the same version of the legislation, it could reach Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for final approval by the end of this week.

Nelson said that every person who registered to give oral testimony before 11 a.m. would get to speak for two minutes. But if there were any outbursts from the public, one warning would be given before she would ask public safety officers to clear the committee room and end the hearing. Senators debated the bill among one another for roughly an hour before they began listening to public input.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, pressed SB 1 author Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, on amending the bill to include an exemption from the 20-week ban for women with pre-existing psychological conditions and redefining the “substantial medical evidence” the bill cites to “some medical evidence” or just “medical evidence.” Hegar rejected all of those changes.

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, asked about including an exception for cases of rape and incest. Hegar responded that there is no exception after 24 weeks, so he did not see the need to have one at 20 weeks.

Zaffirini also asked Hegar what the bill did to reduce levels of unwanted pregnancy and inquired why it did not specifically address sex education. Hegar said the bill is not “a funding mechanism for women’s health” and that sex education is not on the call for this special session.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, debated with Hegar over whether it is realistic to require that abortion providers have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic.

[…]

Ellen Cooper, an expert witness from the Department of State Health Services, said that abortion clinics are inspected at least once a year, while ambulatory surgical centers are inspected every three to six years.

“Generally speaking, compared with the other facility types, I have not been aware of any particular concerns” associated with abortion clinics, she said, and later added, “there’s no reason for me to believe that one is safer than the other.”

Researchers with the Texas Public Policy Evaluation Project — a three-year study at the University of Texas at Austin evaluating the impact of the 2011 cuts to family planning financing in Texas — issued a policy brief detailing the impact of the legislation on five areas of the state that do not have an abortion clinic that meets the ambulatory surgical facility standards.

In the Rio Grande Valley, more than 2,634 women received an abortion in 2011 at one of two medical clinics, according to the policy brief, but if the law were to pass, those women would have to travel to San Antonio at least two times, adding 16 hours of travel to obtain the procedure.

Because only six of the state’s 42 existing abortion facilities meet the existing ambulatory surgical center standards, the policy brief states that women in the metropolitan areas near Beaumont-Port Arthur, Corpus Christi-Kingsville, El Paso, Midland-Odessa, and the Rio Grande Valley would have to travel on average more than 16 hours for two round-trip visits to obtain an abortion. That would increase the costs of obtaining an abortion, and require women to take more time off from work or school, according to the researchers. If there are fewer facilities, women will also be forced to wait longer for an appointment, the researchers add, and later-term abortions are associated with a higher risk of complications.

“Faced with these obstacles, some women may instead choose to try to self-induce their abortion, a phenomenon that we are already observing in the state,” states the policy brief. “We do not doubt that the proposed restrictions would reduce the number of legal abortions carried out in these regions, but we are deeply concerned about the increase in self-induced abortions and increase in later abortion that will almost certainly follow in the wake of these restrictions.”

Yes, the concern for women’s health just warms your heart, doesn’t it? As with the House committee hearing last week, testimony will go well into the night, or until the Chair gets tired of it all and arbitrarily cuts it off. I don’t know if the committee plans to vote on SB1 after the hearing or if it will wait till later, but as the story notes the whole thing could be wrapped up by the end of the week, since neither author is likely to accept any amendments. They have a political mission to accomplish, and they are focused on that. See BOR’s liveblogging for more.

On a side note, for those of you in Houston, the Stand With Texas Women bus tour is coming to Discovery Green tonight, July 9, at 6 PM. I have it on good authority that Sen. Wendy Davis will be one of the speakers. You can also buy one of those orange “Stand with Texas women” T-shirts for $15. I can’t be there, but if you can you should be. Stace, dKos, Texas Politics, and Trail Blazers.

Legislative quick hits

This is the time of the session where there’s lots happening, and there isn’t always the time or space to stay on top of it all. So here are a few quick updates on things that are happening in an attempt to at least not be too far behind.

A bill to give Tesla Motors an opportunity to operate in Texas moves out of committee in the House.

The House Business and Industry Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would allow Tesla Motors to circumvent the state’s franchise dealer system and sell cars directly to Texans, giving a shot in the arm to the company’s efforts to operate in the state.

Tesla says an exemption from the franchise dealer system is the only way the company can operate successfully in Texas, but the owners of state auto dealer franchises have objected, saying the effort weakens a business model that has been key to their success.

House Bill 3351, by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, was replaced by a committee substitute that offered auto dealers another layer of protection: If Tesla ever sells more than 5,000 cars a year in the state, it will become subject to existing regulation and must start to franchise its operations.

With Tesla projecting sales of only a few hundred cars a year in the state, the bill’s supporters, including Diarmuid O’Connell, the vice president of business development for Tesla motors, called this a workable approach.

“This would give us the space we need to introduce our technology in the state,” he said.

See here for the background. I’m rooting for this one.

A bill to allow online voter registration has passed the Senate.

[Tuesday] afternoon, the Texas senate approved SB 315, a bill proposed by State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) to allow holders of unexpired Texas driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs to register to vote online.

Currently, registered voters in Texas may change their addresses online if they move within the same county but must complete a paper application if they are registering to vote for the first time or have moved to a different county.

In testimony on the proposed bill, election administrators said the legislation would both save significant money by reducing the need to manually enter information and eliminate transcription mistakes that happen with the current process.

The version of the bill approved by the Texas senate differs slightly from the original filed version in that the passed bill no longer requires voters to use the address listed on their license or ID as their voter registration address.

A similar bill – HB 313 – by State Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) is currently pending in the state house.

See here for the background. Another bill I’m rooting for. BOR has more.

Sen. Dan Patrick’s charter school expansion bill had its hearing in the House

Lawmakers didn’t let on too much of their feelings about the bill—but Killeen Republican Jimmy Don Aycock, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he didn’t consider the bill watered-down, because it allows the state’s charter network to grow. Charter school officials seemed to agree.

The bill still gives charter schools priority access to unused public school facilities, which Kathleen Zimmerman, executive director of NYOS Charter School, said is the bill’s most important improvement. Zimmerman said she has to give up her office for tutoring sessions because unlike public schools, charters don’t get facilities funding.

Under the Senate version, the education commissioner would revoke charters of schools that performed poorly in three out of five years.

Zimmerman said she didn’t focus on those higher standards because she wanted to highlight the positives. But, she said, “as a charter operator, I don’t want poor performing charters either.”

Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) said she’s concerned that charters may have a hard time getting loans because some banks want them to plan to be open for more than five years.

Charles Pulliam, chief development officer of Life School charter in Dallas, said that prospect would undermine the flexibility charters need to test out innovative education strategies.

“It scares me a little,” Pulliam said. “To have one blanket way of determining if they are successful is a mistake.”

The bill is SB 2, and it easily passed the Senate after adding a bunch of mostly Democratic amendments. It is pending in the House Public Ed committee.

Speaking of charter schools, a bill to limit the role ex-SBOE members can play at one has advanced.

A measure to bar former State Board of Education members from taking a job at a charter school or related foundation within two years of serving on the board is headed to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 1725 by state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, is intended to close the revolving door between the SBOE and charter schools.

An amendment by Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, would allow former board members to take a job at a charter school within the two-year period so long as that member did not vote to create that particular school.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill 6-3 late Tuesday.

The three nays all came from Republicans, which suggests this bill could have problems getting any farther.

The Lege has been trying to change the name of the Railroad Commission to something more reflective of reality for as long as I can remember. They’re still trying, and working on some other reforms as well.

The bill, SB 212 by State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, embodies a previous Sunset review of the Railroad Commission that didn’t pass in the last legislative session that would forbid certain campaign contributions. For instance, commissioners could not accept donations from a party involved in a contested case hearing. It would also limit campaign contributions to the 17 months before an election and 30 days after. Commissioners are elected to six-year terms.

A contested case hearing is the way citizens protest against an oil and gas company permit or action.

Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Railroad Commission, said during testimony that the campaign restrictions were “tricky” because the commissioner position is elected statewide, the state is big, travel is necessary and commissioners must raise money.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sits on the committee, said the Sunset Commission had thought hard about how to put reasonable limits on the campaign financing.

“Sitting there for a six-year term, being able to raise unlimited amounts of money from the industry that they regulate, there clearly is a perception problem,” said Ellis.

The Railroad Commission should be subject to restrictions that differ from other statewide elected officials, like senators and representatives, because the nature of the commission is unique, Nichols said, because the commissioners have six-year terms, they regulate a specific industry and they set rates.

Similar Sunset legislation for the commission originating in the House, HB 2166 by State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, recently passed out of committee, but largely stripped of the campaign and ethics reform, according to Texas Energy Report. That bill could end up competing with the Senate bill discussed Tuesday.

[…]

No one testified specifically against the name-change provision. [Commissioner Christi] Craddick suggested the more succinct Texas Energy Commission. State Sen. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, who worked on the Sunset review that failed to pass in the last legislative session, also suggested a new name.

“I’d like to change it to Texas Department on Oil and Gas because it sounds cool … TDOG,” Hegar said.

The official name in the bill is Texas Energy Resources Commission. But I like Sen. Hegar’s suggestion.

We close with two from the inbox. First, from Equality Texas:

Moments ago, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence advanced House Bill 2403 by Rep. Mary González of El Paso on a committee vote of 5-3.

HB 2403 would remove existing inequity in Texas’ “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense law. The “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is a logical approach to the reality that adolescents sometimes make sexual decisions that adults wish they had not made, but that adolescents have been making since the beginning of time.

Under current law, if teen sweethearts are of opposite sexes, consensual intimate contact remains a matter between parents and their children. However, the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is not currently available to dating teens of the same gender. The state should not intrude on the right of parents to instill their values about sex into their children. Nor should the state interfere if teenage sweethearts make decisions that their parents believe are not what is best for them.

This needs to be a conversation between parents and their children. Not between parents, their children, an arresting officer, a prosecuting attorney, and a trial judge. That is why the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense exists.

HB 2301 will ensure that it applies equally to straight & gay teens.

Today’s House committee action follows advancement of identical legislation by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. On April 9th, Senate Bill 1316 by Senator John Whitmire of Houston was advanced by the committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 1316 is on the Senate Intent Calendar for Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

See here for more. As far as I can tell, the full Senate has not taken up SB1316 as yet.

Last but not least, a non-good bill from Empower the Vote Texas:

HB 148 by Rep. Burkett is scheduled to be voted on by the full House tomorrow, April 25th. Please contact your State Representative and tell them to vote NO on this bill. If you are not sure who is your State Rep, you can use the “Who Represents Me” lookup tool. Emails addresses for all House members are firstname.lastname @ house.state.tx.us, however phone calls are much more effective.

Attached are the letter ETVT sent to all Representatives opposing this bill along with supporting documents. The original text of the bill as introduced, the new text of the committee substitute, witness list, and bill analysis can be found here.

A copy of the letter is here. The hearing is today, so we’ll see how it goes.

Online voter registration bills advance

Some good news.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

House Bill 313, which received praise from committee members in a Monday hearing, and Senate Bill 315, which was voted out of committee Thursday, propose allowing voters to register online and have that application automatically authenticated rather than having to wait on local election officials to reenter the data in their systems and confirm it.

Arizona, which was the first state to create a completely online registration system in 2002, now receives more than 70 percent of its applications digitally, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, introduced HB 313 with a higher authentication standard than seen in Arizona and other states.

Users would have to prove their identity by providing the last four digits of their social security number, driver’s license number and driver’s license audit number, which is specific to the physical card and would prevent someone from stealing a license to register online.

“That is such a high threshold of authorization that in Texas law it constitutes notarization,” Strama said.

The Texas Association of Counties reported in the bill’s fiscal note that the proposal would yield considerable savings associated with the expedited process and not having to hire temporary staff to handle an increased influx of paper registrations near deadlines — often increasing the margin of human error.

[…]

A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts noted that in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, that online registrations cost the state three cents to offer and process while paper applications cost 83 cents.

Albert Cheng, manager of voter registration for Harris County tax-assessor collector’s office, initially listed himself on the witness list as opposing the bill, but said he would support the bill if the author would work with him to address some concerns about security and voter identification.

SB315 is by Sen. Carlos Uresti, and it was approved 7-0 by the Senate State Affairs Committee. As noted, the bills would save counties money while making it easier to register voters in a way that also helped avoid the kind of basic, fixable errors that can lead to registration forms being summarily rejected by some registrars – you know, like what we’ve seen the past few years in Harris County. Like many other things, filling out a voter registration form is something that could easily be done on a smartphone if only the law would allow it. Well, these bills could be that law. I can’t think of any good reason to oppose them. Texpatriate has more, while Texas Redistricting recaps the action in the Elections Committee.

Zaffirini and Uresti stand against needless abortion restrictions

Good to hear, but given their histories it’s wise to be vigilant.

Texas Republicans are one vote short of passing a controversial abortion bill in the Senate — and the fate of the legislation now rests squarely on the shoulders of two South Texas Democrats.

Sens. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, oppose the bill, and without their votes it won’t have the supermajority needed under Senate rules to get to a floor vote.

Both senators occasionally have sided with Republicans to pass anti-abortion measures, voting as recently as 2011 for a contentious bill that requires women to have a sonogram before an abortion. But if they maintain their opposition to Senate Bill 537, which would increase regulations for abortion clinics, the bill is stuck.

The measure has been on the Senate’s calendar for nearly two weeks but has yet to be considered. The Senate requires a two-thirds majority, or 21 votes, to consider legislation. SB 537 has 20 supporters — 19 Republicans and a lone Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville.

[…]

Zaffirini said she is “strongly pro-life” but opposes this bill because it “does nothing to make abortions less necessary” and “has the potential to limit access to critical health care services for thousands of Texas women.”

“Instead of attempting to address problems that do not exist, the Texas Legislature should focus on making women’s health care and prenatal care more accessible and affordable,” she said.

Uresti, who voted against the measure in committee, said it would reduce health care services, including abortion, for women in his district, specifically in rural areas.

“I don’t want to create barriers for women to access health services,” said Uresti, noting that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the bill.

They’re saying the right things, but believe me, I have not forgotten their role in letting the awful sonogram bill pass in 2011. All we needed was one of them plus Lucio to say no, since Jeff Wentworth was also a No vote, but in the end Uresti sold out for a small modification to the bill that somewhat exempted his own district from its reach. Ultimately, Uresti and Zaffirini need to hear from Democrats, around the state but especially in their district, thanking them for holding fast on this, with at least the vague hint of a threat to be primaried if they cave in. They have it exactly right on what it is that SB537 will do. All they need to do is stick to that.

And before anyone says “Kermit Gosnell”, read this and this and this and this. Kermit Gosnell is what happens when women don’t have access to reliable abortion providers. It’s called the back alley, and it was supposed to have been banished forty years ago. Take away enough other choices, however, and it’s what’s left, just like it was before 1973.