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Carol Donovan

Dallas Republicans ordered to pay legal costs in their failed ballot access lawsuit

Cue the sad trombone.

The Dallas County Republican Party will have to pay more than $51,000 to Dallas County Democrats for attorney fees incurred in defending the GOP’s attempt to remove dozens of Democrats from election ballots.

In his final order for the case, state District Judge Eric Moyé ordered the plaintiffs to pay Democrats for the work of three lawyers in the case. The bulk of the $51,600 — more than $32,000 — was awarded to the Dallas County Democratic Party to pay its lawyer in the case, Randy Johnston. The action came after Moyé dismissed the case late last month.

“This is totally a self-inflicted wound on the Republican Party,” Johnston said Monday. “I told them from the start this was a fatally flawed, frivolous lawsuit, but no one would listen. They attacked the trial judge, they attacked the Democratic Party Chair, and they attacked 127 qualified candidates. And they lost it all. Totally self-inflicted and they have no one to blame but themselves.”

Elizabeth Alvarez Bingham, the lawyer for the Dallas County GOP, said she had not seen Moyé’s order. She said state law “exempts us from attorney fee awards because we used a public figure” to file the case. Missy Shorey, the Dallas County GOP party chair, was the plaintiff.

Bingham, who earlier argued unsuccessfully that Moyé should be removed from the case because he recused himself on another ballot challenge, said she was told she had until Monday to argue against her client having to pay lawyer fees.

See here for the background. Good luck with those arguments, Dallas GOP, which did file a response and will get a hearing on Monday for the judge to reconsider. I admit it made me sweat for awhile, but this lawsuit was just too clever by half. The people that filed it deserve their fate. The Dallas Observer has more.

Lawsuit against Dallas County Democratic candidates dismissed

Good.

A judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that would have removed more than 80 Democrats from the November general election ballot, putting to rest a controversy that threatened to toss Dallas County elections into chaos.

State District Judge Eric Moyé issued an order tossing out Dallas County Republican Party Chairwoman Missy Shorey’s lawsuit against Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Donovan and 127 Democrats originally listed on the March 6 primary election ballot. After the primary, the names of the candidates that were in jeopardy dwindled to 82.

The lawsuit contended that Donovan did not sign the candidate applications of 127 Democrats before they were forwarded to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. That signature, according the lawsuit, was needed in order to certify the candidates for the election.

But Moyé on Monday sided with the defense and dismissed the claims. In a hearing Friday a team of lawyers, led by Randy Johnston, argued that Shorey did not have standing to bring the suit. They also said Donovan isn’t required by law to sign candidate petitions and that the matter is moot because the election is already underway.

[…]

Now Moyé will determine if the GOP will be on the hook for legal fees. About 16 Democrats plus the local party retained lawyers.

“The Republican Party must now pay the attorney’s fees incurred by the Dallas County Democratic Party for having to defend a lawsuit that has no basis in law or fact,” according to a news release from Dallas County Democrats.

See here, here, and here for the background. This lawsuit always seemed spurious, but you never can tell. It’s possible there could be an appeal – the lawyer for the Dallas County GOP said they were reviewing the decision and deciding on their next step – but that seems like an even longer longshot. Hopefully, this is the end of it, and hopefully the matter of “signing” the affidavit can be clarified in the next Legislature so as to avoid this kind of silliness going forward. The Trib has more.

Judge in Dallas County ballot lawsuit need not recuse himself

Round One goes to the Dems.

The Dallas County Republican Party on Monday failed in an attempt to have a judge removed from a case that could disqualify 82 Democratic Party candidates from the general election ballot.

Kerrville’s Stephen Ables, the administrative judge for the Sixth Judicial Region, said the GOP did not present evidence that state District Judge Eric Moyé was biased and could not properly preside over the controversial lawsuit. He made his ruling after hearing oral arguments from lawyers representing both parties.

Several Democratic judicial candidates who are targeted in the case hugged after the ruling. And state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said quietly that round one was over.

The suit, brought by the Dallas County Republican Party, contends that the candidates are ineligible to be on the ballot because Carol Donovan, the chairwoman of the Dallas County Democratic Party, didn’t physically “sign” or certify the petitions that were ultimately accepted by the Texas secretary of state’s office.

At one point it sought to disqualify 127 Democratic Party candidates, but the March 6 primaries whittled the number down to 82.

See here, here, and here for the background. This has nothing to do with the merits of the case itself, it just means we don’t need a new judge before getting to the main question. I presume the next step would be a hearing on Rep. Eric Johnson’s motion to dismiss, and once that is resolved if the suit is still active then a hearing on the Dallas County GOP’s arguments. The story says that Judge Moyé “could hear the case in the coming weeks”, which doesn’t tell us much. At some point, you begin to run up against statutory deadlines for the election calendar, so one way or another this will be concluded in a reasonably timely fashion. I’ll keep my eyes open for further updates.

Rep. Johnson files motion to dismiss Dallas County ballot lawsuit

I wish him luck.

Rep. Eric Johnson

State Rep. Eric Johnson on Monday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that would kick him and other Democrats off the November general election ballot.

The suit, brought by the Dallas County Republican Party, contends that the candidates are ineligible to be on the ballot because Carol Donovan, the chairperson of the Dallas County Democratic Party, didn’t physically “sign” or certify the petitions that were ultimately accepted by the Texas secretary of state’s office.

Johnson, an intervenor in the case against Donovan and the Dallas County Democratic Party, says the Texas law does not require Donovan to sign the petitions. In his suit, he contends the Texas Citizens Participation Act assures his place on the ballot, which is an exercise of free speech, protection against “meritless” or “retaliatory” lawsuits.

“This lawsuit is part of a disturbing pattern of the GOP finding problems where they do not exist, which have the effect, if not the intent, of keeping minority voters from electing the candidates of their choice,” said Johnson, D-Dallas. “I pray that the court will conclude the GOP’s completely baseless lawsuit should be dismissed, so I can turn my full attention back to serving my constituents.”

[…]

Before the case can be heard, a judge will consider whether state District Judge Eric Moye should preside over it. That hearing is set for March 26.

See here and here for the background, and here for a link to Rep. Johnson’s motion. The law the motion relies on is here, and I’ll leave it to the attorneys to assess the merits of the argument. I’ve read the motion and it’s fairly technical, but as far as I can tell it’s basically the same logic I heard people express when the suit was first filed. We’ll (eventually) see what the courts make of it.

Update on the Dallas ballot lawsuit

Still waiting on this.

Dallas County Republicans have filed a motion to remove Judge Eric Moyé from overseeing a lawsuit that would remove 127 Democrats from the 2018 general election ballot.

Moyé, a Democrat, has refused to step aside in the case, according to court documents. His decision is unlike one he made in an earlier case about ballot eligibility, when he recused himself.

Elizabeth Bingham, a lawyer for the Dallas County Republican Party, said it “boggles the mind” that Moyé did not remove himself from the case, given his ties to the Democratic Party and that he’s done so on similar cases.

Moyé, who is not up for re-election, has used Jeff Dalton as his political consultant. Dalton is the consultant for numerous Democrats on the 2018 election ballots.

“I am perplexed that he won’t recuse himself,” Bingham said.

But Buck Wood, a lawyer for 16 of the candidates who would be affected by the suit, said judges sometimes recuse themselves because of the political optics. But he said there’s no law requiring them to do so if they are in situations similar to Moyé’s.

“He said he’s not going to do it,” Wood said. “He’s certainly not required by any statute to recuse himself.”

[…]

A hearing on the case is scheduled for Feb. 16, but the case won’t move forward until Regional Administrative Judge Mary Murphy sets proceedings on whether Moyé should continue on the case.

See here for some background. I mean, if having a Democratic judge is a conflict of interest, then wouldn’t having a Republican judge be one, too? Maybe we’ve finally found a compelling-to-me argument for changing our system of electing judges. Good luck sorting this one out. Whatever ruling we eventually do get will be for the November election, not the primary. Sorry to burst your bubble if you were hoping for a quick resolution.

Dallas County GOP sues to knock basically all Dallas Democrats off the ballot

Well, that escalated quickly.

Dallas County Republicans have filed a lawsuit to have 128 Democrats kicked off the March 6 primary ballot.

The lawsuit, filed in Dallas County late Friday, contends that Dallas County Democratic Party Chairman Carol Donovan didn’t sign the petitions of 128 Democratic Party candidates before sending them to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, as required by law.

“The Election Code says the chairman, and nobody else, has to sign them,” said Elizabeth Alvarez Bingham, a lawyer for the Dallas County Republican Party. “Carol Donovan is the chair. She was supposed to sign them. She didn’t do it.”

The news stunned some Democrats after a lawyer for their party notified them of the lawsuit Sunday afternoon.

“We have assembled a legal team of Dallas’ best and brightest Democratic election law attorneys,” Donovan said late Sunday in a news release. “Though we are taking this case seriously, the Republican Party’s lawsuit is not supported by Texas law. We will fight to ensure that all Democratic voters in Dallas County can participate in a fair Primary election.”

[…]

According to the lawsuit, only a fraction of the candidate petitions approved by Donovan actually contained a signature by her hand. The GOP lawsuit alleges Donovan’s signature on other petitions was not hers.

There’s not a whole lot of information to go on here, so let me note a couple of comments I saw on Facebook from people who know election law far better than I do. The first is from Glen Maxey:

“This is a frivolous lawsuit. The Primary Director, under the direction of the Chair, signed these forms. That’s the way it’s been done for decades. And the courts have ruled that way in the past.”

And the second is from Gerry Birnberg:

“And that’s how the Harris County Republican Party does it (or has for years).”

To that extent, and based on another comment I saw, here is Sec. 1.007:

DELIVERING, SUBMITTING, AND FILING DOCUMENTS. (a) When this code provides for the delivery, submission, or filing of an application, notice, report, or other document or paper with an authority having administrative responsibility under this code, a delivery, submission, or filing with an employee of the authority at the authority’s usual place for conducting official business constitutes filing with the authority.

In other words – and remember, I Am Not A Lawyer – it seems like the law allows for an employee of the county party to sign the documents, in place of the Chair. Which is what Maxey and Birnberg are saying. Individual candidates have had ballot applications rejected for technical issues with petitions they have submitted, but this isn’t quite the same as that.

There’s also the question of standing, which DCDP lawyers brought up in response to this suit.

According to a document filed late Monday on behalf of 14 candidates threatened with removal from the ballot, the Dallas County Republican Party and its chairwoman, Missy Shorey, have no standing to bring the suit, since they are not candidates in the election.

“The DCRP is clearly not a candidate and Shorey does not allege that she is a candidate for any office,” according to the filing from the lawyers. “As such, neither the DCRP nor Shorey have the necessary personal interest to have standing to seek the removal of any candidate from the ballot.”

Shorey and her attorney, Dallas lawyer Elizabeth Alvarez Bingham, argue that Dallas County Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Donovan was required to sign the candidate paperwork of Democrats appearing on the March 6 ballot and send the documents to the Texas Secretary of State. Donovan signed only a fraction of the petitions submitted to her, but her signature, clearly signed by someone else, appears on the documents of the 128 candidates in question.

But the candidates, led by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, say there’s nothing in election law that requires Donovan to “sign” candidate petitions, and that she can designate a person to review and sign petitions, if she chose.

[…]

Buck Wood, an attorney for the 14 candidates who responded to the suit, said it’s unlikely that the GOP lawsuit would result in anybody being removed from a ballot.

Wood said process duties, like those of a county party chairman, should not determine the fate of an “eligible” candidate because it would open the door for sloppy or diabolical county leaders sabotaging efforts of candidates across the state.

“It’s not an eligibility issue,” Wood said. “There’s no way anybody can be replaced.”

I have a hard time believing a court would essentially cancel dozens of elections for what seems to be normal practice, but I suppose anything can happen. At the very least, it looks like this action may be dismissed or withdrawn for now, but may be raised again after the primaries. We’ll see.

The Battleground effect in legislative races

So here’s a crazy idea. Rather than judge Battleground Texas by our own beliefs about how things should have gone, what say we take a look at the actual numbers of a few races and see what they tell us? In particular, let’s look at the numbers in the Blue Star Project races, which were legislative elections in which BGTX engaged directly. There was SD10 and eight State House races; I’m going to throw in CD23 as well even though BGTX did not specifically get involved there. I’m going to compare the performance of the Democratic candidates with those of Bill White, since everyone is obsessing about the White numbers even though about 15% of his vote total came from Republicans, and with Lt. Gov. candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson, since I believe her totals are a more accurate reflection of what the base Democratic turnout was in 2010. Here’s what I’ve got:

Dist Candidate Votes Pct White Pct LCT Pct Needed ================================================================== CD23 Gallego 55,436 47.7 55,762 45.6 47,950 40.2 57,902 SD10 Willis 80,806 44.7 76,920 44.6 66,783 38.8 95,485 023 Criss 14,716 45.4 19,224 50.1 15,866 41.8 17,703 043 Gonzalez 10,847 38.6 14,049 45.8 12,635 41.7 17,274 105 Motley 10,469 42.7 11,766 43.8 9,793 36.7 13,588 107 Donovan 13,803 45.0 14,878 46.3 11,936 37.5 16,880 108 Bailey 16,170 39.3 17,401 42.0 12,859 31.3 24,954 113 Whitley 12,044 40.6 13,483 44.8 11,575 38.7 17,639 117 Cortez 11,519 47.3 10,247 48.0 8,829 42.2 12,832 144 Perez 5,854 49.3 8,411 52.7 7,273 46.0 6,010

It’s a mixed bag. The best performances came from Libby Willis in SD10 and Phillip Cortez (one of two incumbents on BGTX’s list) in HD117. Both exceeded White’s totals and far surpassed Chavez-Thompson’s. This is partly a reflection of what happened in Tarrant and Bexar Counties, respectively. In Tarrant, not only did Wendy Davis beat Bill White’s numbers in her backyard, so too did Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston, with Mike Collier just behind. White and Van de Putte were the only ones to carry Bexar for the Dems, with VdP being the high scorer, but Davis came close to White’s number and downballot Dems improved by about 20,000 votes. Willis and Cortez both beat the spread, but not by enough.

Gallego, who again was not directly assisted by BGTX, and the four Dallas County candidates all fell short of White but exceeded, in some cases by a lot, Chavez-Thompson. As I said above, I think topping LCT’s totals represents an improvement in base turnout from 2010, and again that’s consistent with what we saw in Dallas overall, as White was the standard-bearer while the top four Dems all surpassed Chavez-Thompson. Gallego did about as well in Bexar as Ciro Rodriguez did in 2010, and there’s no one place where he did worse, though he could have used more turnout in Maverick County.

The other three results are just bad. Turncoat Dem Lozano carried Jim Wells and Kleberg counties even as all the statewide Dems won in Jim Wells and most of them carried Kleberg despite generally losing it in 2010. Davis didn’t win Kleberg, and she scored lower in Jim Wells than several other Dems. That may have been a contributing factor, but on the whole it was fairly marginal. Still, that needs to be understood more fully, and someone needs to come up with a strategy to keep Dems from crossing over for Lozano if we want to make that seat competitive again.

Criss had a tough assignment, as HD23 has been trending away as places like Friendswood have made Galveston County and that district more Republican. Unlike the other two Dem-held State Rep seats that were lost, HD23 isn’t going to flip to “lean Dem” in 2016. Turnout by both parties was down in HD23 from 2010, and it’s probably the case that White was a boost there four years ago. Better turnout could have gotten her closer, but Susan Criss was always going to have to persuade some Rs to support her to win. I will be very interested to see what the Legislative Council report on this one looks like when it comes out.

The loss by Mary Ann Perez was the worst of the bunch, partly because it looked like she was up in early voting and partly because Harris was alone among the five largest counties in not improving Dem turnout. You can ding BGTX or whoever you like as much as you want for the latter, but the candidate herself has to take some responsibility, too. Winning this seat back needs to be a priority in 2016, and making sure it stays won needs to be a bigger priority after that.

So like I said, a mixed bag. The 2010 numbers were pretty brutal overall in these districts, and where there were improvements it was encouraging, and offers hope for 2016. Where there wasn’t improvement was disappointing, and needs to be examined thoroughly to understand what happened. I’d give the project a final grade of C – there’s some promise going forward and some lessons to be learned, but while improvements are nice, results are necessary.

The two Dallas districts to watch

There’s HD105:

Susan Motley

Hispanics make up 41 percent of Irving’s population — up from 31 percent in 2000 and 16 percent in 1990, when the white population topped 71 percent, according to figures from 2010, the latest available. White residents make up 31 percent of Irving, Asians 14 percent and blacks 12 percent.

The changing demographics have turned Irving into a battleground in the November election in a state race that could foreshadow future face-offs in a changing state. Sensing an opportunity to put a state House seat in the “win” column, Democrats are courting Hispanic residents; Republicans, who have held the seat since 2001, are also making a push among new residents.

The race for House District 105, which is mostly in Irving, pits Susan Motley, a Democrat and disability rights attorney, against Rodney Anderson, the former state representative who beat a longtime incumbent, Linda Harper-Brown, in the Republican primary.

Motley said changing demographics showed that the district needed a leader who could “appreciate this diversity rather than react negatively from fear or misunderstanding.” She is getting help from the Democratic organizing group Battleground Texas, which is working to register voters and get them to the polls in November.

“Truthfully, I have felt for a long time that this district has what it needs if people turn out to vote,” Motley said about Democrats’ chances in House District 105.

Anderson said he has been successful in winning over minorities, pointing to his one term representing a neighboring district that had a majority-minority population.

“The same message I have today of individual liberty and creating an economic environment resonated well then and continues to resonate now,” he said.

And there’s HD107:

District 107 in the Texas House was created to be a Republican district, and a Republican now holds it.

But the results in 2012 were so close — Kenneth Sheets, first elected two years earlier, won re-election by less than 1,000 votes out of 50,000 cast — that Democrat Carol Donovan hopes to take it away this year.

District 107 stretches through the homes of middle-class families in northeast Dallas, Garland and Mesquite into affluent neighborhoods surrounding White Rock Lake.

Donovan thinks it is turning blue.

“It’s a matter of overcoming the edge,” she said. “The district is evolving, and I think the district is a lot more even than the people who drew the lines anticipated.”

Sheets said his conservative views are attuned to the people of the district. Sheets was considered an ally of the tea party when he was first elected in 2010, but he said he has broadened his perspective.

“I think I’ve matured,” he said. “I got to the point of understanding the reality of where things are.

What this all basically boils down to is that Dallas County is 55% or more Democratic overall – no Republican has won a countywide race in Dallas since 2004 – but eight of the 14 State Rep districts were drawn to elect Republicans. Because of that, none of these are truly safe seats for the Rs – none gave Mitt Romney more than 59% in 2012. In a strong year for the Dems, these two districts and maybe one or two more could fall to them, and in a good year for the Rs they could all revert back. I don’t know what will happen this year, but I feel confident saying that there will be hotly contested races in these seats for at least as long as the current map is in place. It’s just a matter of math.

It’s about more than the Davis campaign

Gromer Jeffers highlighted something recently that I think hasn’t gotten enough attention.

In her race for Texas governor, Wendy Davis’ sisters have her back.

I’m not talking about her biological family. Davis is getting support from a group of female House candidates who are piggybacking on her policy proposals and helping her take aim at Republicans, including Greg Abbott, the attorney general and GOP nominee for governor.

Last week, for instance, Davis proposed the elimination of the statute of limitations in rape crimes. Quickly afterward, four House candidates, all women, issued news releases backing the state senator’s proposal.

They included House District 108 candidate Leigh Bailey, House District 105 candidate Susan Motley, House District 23 candidate Susan Criss in Galveston and House District 43 hopeful Kim Gonzalez in Kingsville.

There’s political strategy to the “we are family” approach.

Democrats across the state are running as a team in hopes of encouraging straight-ticket votes that will not only help Davis, but down-ballot candidates.

In Dallas County, for instance, County Judge Clay Jenkins and District Attorney Craig Watkins hope to benefit from a base voter turnout.

They will work with local campaigns, Davis and groups like Battleground Texas, a Democratic group that aims to make the state competitive long-term.

In previous years, Democratic House candidates have had to largely fend for themselves, since many of them are stuck in districts drawn to benefit Republican candidates.

A countywide mobilizing helps them, but it has fallen short for many, as the Democratic base is outside their individual districts.

But this year, with Battleground Texas helping, the candidates are using issues seen as important to women — equal pay, early childhood education, and health care, for instance — to go after more voters.

If Davis manages to woo crossover voters, so will the House candidates. That’s the theory.

“What unites all these campaigns, from Wendy on down the ballot, is that they’re fighting for Texas families instead of insiders,” Jenn Brown, executive director of Battleground Texas, said.

That approach, which I agree is something we haven’t really seen before despite the obvious benefit of it, is actually broader than what Jeffers documents. BOR wrote about BGTX’s Blue Star Project, from which all this comes. Here’s a list of candidates that BGTX has highlighted on their site, some with videos, so far:

SD 10 – Libby Willis

HD 23 – Susan Criss
Video Post

HD 43 – Kim Gonzalez
Video Post

HD 105 – Susan Motley
Video Post

HD 107 – Carol Donovan

HD 108 – Leigh Bailey

HD 113 – Milton Whitley

HD 117 – Phil Cortez

HD 144 – Mary Ann Perez

That list is not final – Battleground says they are seeking opportunities to get involved where they think they can make a difference. You can’t be everywhere at once, and resources are always finite, but it’s great to see this kind of strategic thinking. In places like SD10 and HD23, two Republican-leaning districts that Democrats currently hold, it could be the difference between winning and losing. In marginally Republican districts like HD43 and the four Dallas locations, it could be the difference between gaining seats and keeping the status quo. That’s all about increasing turnout, which is something everyone wants and which should be very conducive to joint efforts like this. Again, we could certainly find that BGTX did a stellar job boosting Democratic base turnout but still fell short at the state level. Where a gap exists in these districts, however, it’s much smaller. Keep an eye on this, and if you live in or near one of those districts, you now have twice as many reasons to get involved.