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Anti-Obamacare ruling appealed

The big non-Mueller story to follow for 2019.

Best mugshot ever

The Democratic coalition of states battling Texas over the fate of the Affordable Care Act has formally begun the process of challenging a Dec. 14 decision ruling the law unconstitutional in its entirety.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who’s leading the charge, filed a notice of appeal Thursday morning before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The blue states will ask the federal appeals court to overturn last month’s ruling from U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who declared that President Barack Obama’s signature health care law is unconstitutional after Congress in December 2017 gutted one of its major provisions, the individual mandate.

The notice of appeal marks the next stage of what is expected to be a long-running litigation process that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court. A Texas-led coalition of 20 states kicked the process off nearly a year ago by suing the federal government to kill the law; after the Justice Department sided partially with Texas, the California-led coalition of states stepped in to defend Obamacare in court.

“The wheels start turning as of now,” Becerra said on a press call Thursday morning.

See here and here for the background. Every legal scholar with a shred of integrity has denounced this ruling as ridiculous, but we all know that what matters is what five members of SCOTUS think is legal. One story I read about this noted that the coalition of states defending Obamacare picked up an ally after the 2018 election, the new Attorney General of Colorado. One can only wonder what might be happening today if we could have added a new Attorney General of Texas to this. Alas, we’ll have to file that under What Might Have Been.

How legal pot affects Texas

It has many effects.

In just two weeks in October, the legal landscape for marijuana use in North America changed dramatically.

First, Canada opened sales of legalized pot for recreational use, and then Mexico’s high court delivered a definitive ruling that citizens have the right to possess the weed for their personal use. That leaves Texas virtually surrounded by states that allow marijuana for medical use — but not for recreational purposes — as well as being sandwiched between two neighboring countries that have liberalized their stance on personal usage of the drug.

And while the Lone Star State is a long way from following the example of Canada and Mexico, there seems to be growing support for at least reducing stiff criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of the weed. Currently, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by a six-month jail term and a $2,000 fine.

“Even in Texas, public opinion seems to have shifted from criminalization to at least decriminalization, with strengthening support for legalization,” said Nora Demleitner, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia and the lead author of the textbook “Sentencing: Law and Policy.”

[…]

Despite the criminal penalties, Texas has two of the Top 10 consumer cities in the country. Houston occupies the fourth spot with an estimated 21 metric tons of weed consumed last year, after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, according to the 2018 Cannabis Price Index from the German company Seedo, which tracks the market around the world. Dallas is number seven with 15 metric tons.

That high demand in Houston and elsewhere in Texas, some experts say, is not being met by traditional drug smuggling networks alone.

“Today in Texas, consumers easily find a wider variety of cannabis products than a few years ago coming from all over the place,” said Dean Becker, a Baker Institute contributing expert in drug policy.

Becker explained that states like Colorado, California and Oregon are growing more than their markets can absorb, and smugglers are flourishing moving the merchandise to other marketplaces. Mexico, he said, isn’t the main Texas supplier anymore as their producers are struggling to compete with the higher quality of U.S. grown products.

[…]

“The cannabis industry is a job creator, which Mexico and Canada realize, and it also cuts into the portfolio of criminals by making its use and sale a legitimate business that (creates) jobs and revenue,” said Grissom, the former federal prosecutor.

Grissom says Colorado is a good example, which reported total cannabis sales of $1.5 billion in 2017, and a staggering $5.7 billion since sales began in January 2014, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

“These funds did not go to criminals but to entrepreneurs who created over 20,000 new full-time jobs that paid a living wage as well as a new source of (tax) revenue for the state,” he said.

Overall, “the nascent U.S. cannabis market is already double the size of Canada’s, at $8.5 billion dollars,” said Brad Alexander, a senior adviser at McGuireWoods Consulting, a public policy advisory firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He predicts that by 2022, this market could top $20 billion.

As the story notes, multiple DAs, mostly in big counties, are now de-emphasizing pot prosecutions, and Texas legalized – in a very limited way – a form of medical marijuana. Greg Abbott has made some comments recently about supporting a reduction in penalties for possession, but I’ll believe that when I see an anointed bill that is supposed to accomplish that. As for the prospects for legalization, I’ll just note that the arguments for it – economic benefit, especially as we are currently losing business from Texans who want to engage in it to neighboring states – sound an awful lot to me like the perennial arguments for expanded gambling. I don’t need to tell you how successful that pursuit has been. I think some small reforms by the Lege, with broader reforms pushed at the county level, will happen. Beyond that, keep your hopes in check.

“The only game in college sports history whose the final outcome was decided after the game”

If you follow sports, you have probably heard about this:

In one of the more improbable finishes to a football game, Central Michigan wide receiver Corey Willis grabbed a lateral from fellow receiver Jesse Kroll at the 12-yard line after a Hail Mary and raced into the end zone with no time remaining to stun No. 22 Oklahoma State 30-27 on Saturday.

It never should have happened.

Mid-American Conference referee Tim O’Dey — as well as the MAC and the Big-12 conferences — acknowledged after the game that Central Michigan was wrongly awarded an untimed down, which resulted in the miraculous Hail-and-lateral finish.

“I’m going to leave that alone. We had a play, we executed, end of story,” Central Michigan coach John Bonamego told ESPN. “I’ll leave it for everybody else to discuss.”

With four seconds remaining, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph threw an incomplete pass to the left sideline to run the final seconds off the clock for what seemed to be a 27-24 victory for the Cowboys (1-1). However, no receivers ran a route, thus resulting in an intentional grounding penalty on fourth down.

[…]

Since intentional grounding is a foul that includes loss of down, that meant Oklahoma State turned the ball over on downs.

“There’s a rule that says that the game cannot end on an accepted live ball foul. That’s the rule. There’s an exception to the rule that says if enforcement of the foul involves a loss of down, then that brings the game to an end,” O’Dey told a pool reporter.

“So in that situation, we’ve had the opportunity to run it back through our hierarchy, which includes the national rules editor, and he confirmed that should have been a loss of down and the end of the game at that point, so that extension should not have happened.”

The rule in question is Rule 3, Section 2, Article 3.1 in the NCAA football rule book: “A period shall be extended for an untimed down if … a penalty is accepted for a live-ball foul(s). (Exception: Rule 10-2-5-a). The period is not extended if the foul is by the team in possession and the statement of the penalty includes loss of down.”

The Mid-American Conference issued a statement that the officiating crew was in the wrong, but the result of the game would stand.

“The Mid-American Conference officiating crew … made an error on the final play of regulation,” Bill Carollo, the coordinator of football officials for the Collegiate Officiating Consortium, said in a statement. “The crew made a misapplication of the rule and should not have extended the contest with one final play. Despite the error, this will not change the outcome of the contest.”

MAC officials weren’t the only ones in the wrong. According to the Big 12, Coordinator of Football Officials Walt Anderson said “the Big 12 replay crew missed an opportunity to stop the game to inform the MAC officiating crew of the misapplication of the intentional grounding penalty as time expired.”

According to the Big 12, NCAA rules permit instant replay to “correct egregious errors, including those involving the game clock.”

None of those explanations mattered to Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder, who issued a statement saying it’s “incomprehensible” that the outcome can’t be reversed.

“We were told there is nothing that could be done,” Hoder said. “… The final score shows that Oklahoma State lost the game but that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with it.”

All of the officials involved have been suspended as a result of the screwup, which seems reasonable. I question that assertion that there is nothing that can be done about the outcome of the game. College football historians will note that there is a precedent for this, from way back in 1940. Here’s a WBUR story from last year, the 75th anniversary of the infamous “Fifth Down Game”, between Dartmouth and unbeaten and #2-ranked Cornell:

According to the informal historian of Dartmouth sports, Jack DeGange, Dartmouth’s opponent on Nov. 16, 1940, had a lot to lose.

“Cornell was on an 18-game unbeaten streak,” he said. “They were nationally ranked. They were clearly the dominant team in the Ivy League. And at that point, Dartmouth, by contrast, was 3-4 coming into the game. But there was a lot on the line, especially for Cornell.”

It was a low scoring affair, and Dartmouth took a 3-0 lead into the closing seconds of the game. The tension must have been terrific, and maybe it was that tension that effected one of the officials, Red Friesell.

Anyway, Cornell had the ball deep in Dartmouth’s territory. After a couple of unsuccessful running plays inside the Dartmouth 10 yard line, it looked as if Cornell might need all four tries to score.

And then they did score a touchdown on a pass play. But it was only after Red Friesell had inadvertently given them…a fifth down.

“And he says, ‘I think I may have made a terrible mistake,'” DeGange recalled.

“This is the official, who admits this in the car on his way to the train!” I said.

“Well, yeah,” DeGange said, “but they hadn’t looked at the film on both teams, which, over the next 24 hours is what happened. They looked at the film and concluded that, in fact, Cornell got the fifth down.”

Once everyone agreed this is what had happened, Cornell made the unprecedented and since-unrepeated offer to concede the game to Dartmouth, which was accepted. The game went into the books as a 3-0 win for Dartmouth. I read about this as a kid in the book Strange But True Football Stories, which is a bargain at many times the price listed at that Amazon link. What I didn’t know and only learned as I googled around for this post, is that Cornell didn’t actually expect Dartmouth to accept their offer:

It would go down as perhaps the greatest act of sportsmanship in college football history, but Lou Conti and his Cornell teammates wanted no part of it.

Cornell President Edmund Ezra Day, declaring the outcome to be “tarnished,” sent a telegram to Dartmouth, offering to forfeit the victory to the Indians.

“I remember he was a Dartmouth man,” Conti says of Day, a Dartmouth graduate, “and his classic remark was, ‘You can offer them the game, but they won’t accept it.’

“We didn’t believe that. I didn’t believe that. Nobody believed that they would not accept the game.”

And they were right.

Dartmouth accepted.

“Our coach and athletic director told us, ‘As the years go by, this will resonate as a fine example of sportsmanship’ — and they were 100% right,” Conti, 91, says during an interview at his home outside Chicago. “But if I had been a grown person with some authority, I never would have offered to give the game away.”

In that case, of course, it would have been long forgotten.

“Winning evaporates in time,” Conti’s 92-year-old former teammate, Bud Finneran, says from his home in Bensenville, Ill. “But something like this goes on forever.”

Indeed, Cornell’s selfless act was celebrated far and wide, its implications reverberating through the decades.

Sportsmanship, wrote the New York Herald Tribune in the immediate aftermath, “remains in its true form so seldom these days that when it can be truly applied, as it can to Cornell University … there seems again to be hope in the world.”

Wrote the New York Times, in a similar editorial praising the Big Red’s offer: “If we were Cornell, we wouldn’t trade that telegram for all the team’s victories in the past two years.”

Years later, commentator and longtime college football observer Beano Cook would rank Cornell’s magnanimous gesture as the No. 2 moment in the sport’s long and storied history — behind only Knute Rockne’s “Win One for the Gipper” speech.

“I’ll be darned,” Conti says.

That was from 2010 and the 70th anniversary of the game. I’m delighted there were still a couple of players from the game around to talk about it. Some of you may recall that there was another Fifth Down game in the much more recent year of 1990, in which Colorado was the beneficiary and Missouri the victim. Colorado and its coach, Bill McCartney, who went on to be a founder of the Christian conservative group Promise Keepers, declined to consider the possibility of mimicking Cornell. I never cared for Bill McCartney, who did eventually regret his decision, and this did nothing to change that.

Anyway. It sucks to be Oklahoma State right now, and this loss is going to sting even if the playoff committee takes the circumstances of the loss into account. But don’t say there’s nothing that can be done. There is, and there’s precedent for it, even if it only ever happened once.

Pokemon Go get votes

This is a smart idea.

Lazaros Sanchez, 25, often ventures to the Capitol on his lunch break. “There’s Pokémon all over the place,” he observed late Thursday morning after catching a Pokémon called Eevee.

Now politicians are jumping on the trend. State Rep. Rodney Anderson, a Grand Prairie Republican up for re-election this fall, [organized] a canvass [last] Saturday themed to the game.

Volunteers will knock on doors around a neighborhood in Irving, like usual, but the campaign is also advertising the event as an opportunity for Pokémon Go players to catch the digital creatures around the local park.

A Facebook event addresses “all Pokémon Trainers and Grass Roots Activists!” and offers that block walking “will be a great chance to find new Pokémon and hatch those eggs!” And, it adds, there are prizes, at least virtual ones — the campaign will reward the volunteers who catch the strongest and the most creatures with “PokéCoins,” the game’s online currency. (It includes a disclaimer that non-Pokémon Go players are also welcome.)

[…]

Anderson called his event this weekend “blending technology and some entertainment to say, ‘Hey, let’s come on out and say hi to voters.’” He has not played the game himself, but his young adult children play. “They grew up on this when they were 8, 9, 10 years old, now somebody’s come up with a way to keep them engaged,” Anderson said.

Reception to his block walk has been good so far — Anderson declined to quote one response he heard directly “because they put an adjective in front of brilliant” — though he said he has “no idea” what kind of turnout to expect. A handful of people have RSVP’d to the Facebook event.

“It’s something that grabs attention — hey, this is different — and we’ll be happy with whatever turnout that we have,” Anderson said.

I agree, this is a great idea whatever the turnout they ultimately get for it. They’ll need to ensure that the volunteers recruited by the prospect of hatching eggs stay on the main task of engaging voters, but they’ve given a reason for people who wouldn’t normally do this sort of thing to participate, and it’s a natural fit for Pokémon Go enthusiasts.

Here’s another example:

Since early July, Colorado Democrats have used the popular mobile game as a tool to register young voters ahead of the November elections.

It’s part of an effort to help Clinton move past the Philadelphia convention, and try and match the robust turnout of young voters that carried President Barack Obama to wins in 2008 and 2012; a challenge made more difficult by lingering support in Colorado for Clinton’s former rival Bernie Sanders.

“You have to meet people where they are,” said U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat and a Pokémon Go player. “It’s a great way to engage people.”

The set-up goes like this. Because Pokémon Go forces its players to visit real-world locations to capture digital creatures and advance in the game, state Democratic staff and volunteers have staked out certain hotspots — known as Pokéstops or Pokémon training gyms — to find unregistered voters.

Given that Pokémon Go players, also called trainers, tend to skew younger, the approach has given Democrats a target-rich environment to find potential supporters. Campaign officials said they’ve registered dozens of voters, at least, in the first few weeks of the program and plan to keep doing it.

“Organizers figured out that just going to these locations and starting conversations with players is a great way for to potentially find a lot of unregistered Coloradans and get them registered to vote,” wrote Meredith Thatcher, a spokeswoman for the Clinton campaign in Colorado, in response to questions.

Again, this is a super idea. If campaigns aren’t thinking of ways to user Pokémon Go to get people to the polls in November, they’re missing an opportunity. I’m not a fan of Rep. Anderson, and his seat is one Democrats have a decent shot at winning, but I applaud his initiative, and I hope we can learn something from his results.

The Donald is spurring people to register to vote

Just another data point for your consideration.

Registration among Hispanic voters is skyrocketing in a presidential election cycle dominated by Donald Trump and loud GOP cries to close the border.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials, projects 13.1 million Hispanics will vote nationwide in 2016, compared to 11.2 million in 2012 and 9.7 million in 2008.

Many of those new Hispanic voters are also expected to vote against Trump if he is the Republican nominee, something that appears much more likely after the front-runner’s sweeping primary victories Tuesday in five East Coast states.

[…]

Many of the newly registered Hispanic voters are in California and Texas, relatively safe states for Democrats and Republicans, respectively.

In fact, because so many Hispanic voters live in those states, the effect of the rising registration numbers will be somewhat undercut, according to Vargas.

Still, rising registration rates among Hispanics in Colorado, Florida and Nevada could make it easier for the Democratic candidate to retain those swing states. Even Arizona could be in play, say some poll watchers.

Registration is a game-changer with Hispanic voters.

Only about 48 percent of eligible Hispanics vote, but nearly 80 percent of registered Hispanics go to the ballot box.

Emphasis mine. The story is primarily about swing states, because this sort of story always is, but as you know it’s the effect on Texas that interests me. Here’s a subsequent Chron story that adds a local angle.

Across the nation, non-profits say they are registering Hispanics and helping residents become citizens at faster rates than ever before, many of them mobilized by a desire to vote against the billionaire developer.

“That’s the No. 1 name that comes up all the time,” said Claudia Ortega-Hogue, vice president of the Houston-area League of Women Voters. “There is fear, and there is anger.”

Since last summer, when Trump first referred to Mexicans as criminals, Ortega-Hogue said her organization began registering more than 80 percent of new citizens at naturalization ceremonies compared to the 60 percent that is average. Many have long held green cards but told volunteers they naturalized now to vote against Trump. The process, from turning in an application to the final swearing-in ceremony, takes about six months, making May crunch time for those seeking to participate in November.

“The comments that Trump has made has really increased the numbers of people wanting to be involved,” Ortega-Hogue said.

Average monthly citizenship applications across the country spiked nearly 15 percent to about 64,800 between August and January, the most recent government data available, compared to the same period the year before. In Texas, some 66,000 immigrants became citizens in 2015, about a quarter more than in the previous year.

[…]

In the past, volunteers had to approach people and “almost twist their arms” for them to sign up to vote, said Carlos Duarte, who oversees Texas for Mi Familia Vota, a national group focused on boosting Latino voter registration.

“What is different now is that people approach us,” Duarte said. “They would always make these comments, and it was very heavily a reaction against Donald Trump.”

[…]

A sizeable Hispanic push could impact down-ballot elections, particularly in Harris County, which has the country’s largest Latino population after Los Angeles, more than 1.9 million.

The county went to President Barack Obama in 2012 by only some 970 votes, and for the first time in over three decades now leans majority-Democratic, according to a survey last month by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Tellingly, most of that pickup for Democrats is among Latino respondents who are eligible but not registered to vote, said the report’s author, Stephen Klineberg.

Mobilizing these and other Hispanics could imperil two dozen Republican judges in the county and more than 50 around the state, as well as the Harris County District Attorney and sheriff, said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

“With Trump’s track record thus far of making statements portraying immigrants as racists and murderers and building a wall, it’s a ready-made campaign commercial against him for Univision,” Jones said. “Trump on the ballot could really be serious trouble for Harris County Republicans.”

It could also hurt a few Republican legislators in strong Hispanic districts in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, including Gilbert Peña in Pasadena. And it might add a Democratic congressional seat in the 23rd district, which is currently represented by Republican Will Hurd and stretches from San Antonio to the Mexican border.

See here for more on the Houston Area Survey. I’ve written about this before, so add this to the collection. I will be very interested to see what voter registration numbers look like when they come out. Anything that Democrats can do to abet those efforts will be well worth it.

Find those leaks

I don’t care how.

A pair of state and federal government inspectors spent two weeks traveling around northern Colorado’s oil and gas fields in early 2012, filming with an infrared camera.

Air pollution was rising in the region, and attention was turning to the rapid increase in drilling activity. The inspectors focused on Houston-based Noble Energy, one of the state’s largest drillers with about 7,000 wells in the suburbs and countryside north of Denver.

With the naked eye, there was nothing to see at the nearly hundred sites they visited. But when observed through the infrared camera, again and again they saw plumes of gas radiating from the top of storage tanks near the wells.

“The infrared camera does not quantify emissions, but you can say that’s a small leak versus a big leak. And these were big leaks,” said one of the inspectors, Cindy Beeler, an energy adviser at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s offices in Colorado. “When we showed our findings to Noble, they were surprised.”

As the Obama administration accelerates its campaign to blunt the effects of climate change, federal regulators are turning to infrared technology to seek out emissions leaks in the country’s oil and gas fields. With state agencies, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and environmental groups embracing the technology, drillers are increasingly finding themselves staring down the lenses of infrared cameras.

Beyond government inspections, many companies are worried they soon will be required to do their own infrared scans and make what they fear will be unnecessary repairs across the country’s more than 1 million oil and gas wells. Industry lobbyists are already challenging the devices’ effectiveness.

“Part of our concern is that it really locks us in to this technology at a point in time the understanding of these fugitive emissions is really in its childhood,” said Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “The presumptive starting point for the EPA is requiring infrared.”

[…]

For decades, companies and government inspectors relied on hand-held sensors to tell them if gas was leaking. But without a means to see the emissions, one was left to guess where to hold the sensor on a drilling site that can run the size of a football field – “like trying to pin the tail on the donkey,” Beeler jokes.

Then in 2011, the EPA decided to try infrared technology, which uses variations in temperature and other environmental measures to form images – capturing everything from a mouse on the ground to escaping gas.

At the time, the primary mission was reducing the release of volatile organic compounds, a key contributor to smog, which has long been linked to asthma and lung disease in humans. But federal attention is now turning to methane, which makes up about 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and has an impact on global warming 25 times that of carbon dioxide.

The oil and gas industry is pressuring the EPA to look away from infrared at other cheaper technologies, like methane sensors, that would automatically detect leaks as they occur but are still in development. In a memo to EPA in December, the IPAA raised several issues about the infrared devices, including concerns about whether smaller companies could handle the cost – $100,000 each – and whether they were reliable.

“The results of the camera, the ‘pictures,’ are difficult to interpret and subject to misinterpretation, e.g., what appears to be a leak could simply be a heat plume,” the memo stated.

EPA officials countered that infrared is one of a variety of tools for gathering evidence in emissions cases that often was supported by data from the companies themselves.

“Infrared allows us to see hydrocarbons,” said Apple Chapman, associate director of EPA’s air enforcement division. “It’s a faster screening tool and a faster investigative tool.”

I don’t care what technology gets used, as long as something gets used that can reliably detect these leaks. I doubt I have to explain why some kind of voluntary compliance program is worthless. If the industry has a viable alternative to infrared that they don’t mind being required to use, then fine. If not, then infrared it is. Whatever gets the job done.

It’s not easy going green

And by “going green” I mean legalizing pot, at least in Texas.

Zonker

Advocacy groups and lawmakers say marijuana policy reform in Texas could be the fiscally responsible thing to do in light of the state’s decreasing oil and gas revenues.

Texas legislators should look to marijuana policy reform to save, and even make, money in the face of looming budget shortfalls, said SXSW panelist Phillip Martin of Progress Texas, in front of what he called the “wake and bake crowd” Tuesday morning.

“It’s not an ideological barrier,” said Martin. “Anything that’s going to move is going to move because of money.”

The “Turn Texas Green” panel brought legislators and advocates together to to discuss how the Lone Star State could legalize pot for medical or even recreational use.

Zoe Russell, from the Houston nonprofit Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), said some “establishment” Republicans already “see the writing on the wall” with decriminalization policies at the local level. In 2015, Harris County’s Republican DA implemented a “First Chance” policy allowing non-violent offenders with small amounts of marijuana to be ticketed, rather than arrested.

But so far, few statewide elected officials have been willing to put their names on marijuana legislation, Russell said.

“Behind closed doors, they’re really supportive of ideas like this,” Russell told the audience of around 15 or so. “[But] they’re scared of their shadow.”

As Texas’ oil and gas revenues drop dramatically, panelists said the state’s money woes may override the squeamishness many legislators have about legalizing weed.

With all due respect – and I have a lot of respect for Phillip Martin and Progress Texas – the argument that Texas could make some money by legalizing pot and that this would help with the current budget situation is a complete nonstarter. I say this because advocates for expanded gambling, both the slot-machines-at-horse-tracks and the casinos groups, have been making this same argument for well more than a decade and during the budget crunches of 2003 and 2011, and they have nothing to show for it. If there’s one thing we should have learned from those past experiences, it’s that not only is the Republican leadership in this state unreceptive to proposals that would add new revenue streams in Texas, they are actively hostile to them. They’re not interested in more revenue. Budget crunches are to them opportunities to slash spending. It really is an ideological barrier. I don’t see that changing until the leadership we have in Texas changes. I wish that weren’t the case, but I see no evidence to suggest otherwise.

It also pains me to say that even under the most optimistic scenarios, the amount of revenue Texas would likely gain from legalizing and taxing marijuana is way too small to have any effect on a real budget shortfall. The state of Colorado took in $125 million in pot tax revenue in 2015, which sounds like a lot until you remember that the Texas budget is roughly a thousand times bigger than that for a year. This is like saying that Colorado pot revenue is a penny to Texas’ ten dollars. Putting this into a more workable context, $125 of pot tax revenue represents about two percent of the $5.4 billion that was cut from public education in the 2011 budget. I’m the first to agree that in a crisis situation, every little bit helps. The point I’m making is that this really would be a little bit.

Which is not to say that there are no economic arguments to be made for at least loosening pot laws, if not outright legalizing it. The case that Texas will spend a lot less money, at the state and county level, with smarter pot laws has some traction and a chance to gain ground. You’re still going to have to overcome the fear that not punishing all these potheads will lead to a spike in crime – it won’t, but you’re going to have to convince some people of that – as well as the strong distaste a lot of people have for pot and the people who indulge in it, but the prospect of spending less will help. (You also have to overcome the fact that some of our legislators are complete idiots, but that’s more of an electoral issue.) Here I think the short-term potential is greater at the county level, since as Harris County has demonstrated some of what can be done is a simple matter of discretion on the part of one’s police department and District Attorney, but the Lege is where it’s at for the longer term, and the real gain. I wish everyone involved in this fight good luck, and I hope we all remembered to vote for candidates who will pursue smarter laws and strategies regarding marijuana in the primaries.

Donald Trump is making more citizens

He’s good for something.

Over all, naturalization applications increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the year before, and jumped 14 percent during the six months ending in January, according to federal figures. The pace is picking up by the week, advocates say, and they estimate applications could approach one million in 2016, about 200,000 more than the average in recent years.

While naturalizations generally rise during presidential election years, Mr. Trump provided an extra boost this year. He began his campaign in June describing Mexicans as drug-traffickers and rapists. His pledge to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it has been a regular applause line. He has vowed to create a deportation force to expel the estimated 11 million immigrants here illegally, evoking mass roundups of the 1950s.

Among 8.8 million legal residents eligible to naturalize, about 2.7 million are Mexicans, the largest national group, federal figures show. But after decades of low naturalization rates, only 36 percent of eligible Mexicans have become citizens, while 68 percent of all other immigrants have done so, according to the Pew Research Center.

[…]

This year immigrants seeking to become citizens can find extra help from nonprofit groups and even from the White House. Last September, President Obama opened a national campaign to galvanize legal residents to take the step. They can now pay the fee, $680, with a credit card, and practice the civics test online. They can get applications at “citizenship corners” in public libraries in many states.

The White House recruited Fernando Valenzuela, the legendary Mexican-born pitcher who naturalized only last year, and José Andrés, the Spanish-American chef, to make encouraging advertisements and to turn up at swearing-in ceremonies. On Presidents’ Day, administration officials swore in more than 20,000 new citizens. On Wednesday the administration announced $10 million in grants to groups guiding immigrants through the process.

A majority of Latinos are Democrats, and some Republicans accuse the White House of leading a thinly veiled effort to expand the ranks of the president’s party. But administration officials argue the campaign is nonpartisan, noting that immigrants who become citizens improve their incomes and chances for homeownership.

“I certainly don’t care what party they register with; I just want them to become citizens,” said Leon Rodriguez, director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency in charge of naturalizations.

Aside from Colorado, naturalization drives are taking place in Nevada and Florida, states likely to be fiercely contested in November where Latino voters could provide a crucial margin. One nonprofit group, the New Americans Campaign, plans to complete 1,500 applications at a session in the Marlins Park baseball stadium in Miami on March 19.

Great idea. In general, encouraging green card holders to go through the naturalization process is a good thing. I just hope we’re doing some of this here in Texas.

Some Latino political power trends

The Latino electorate keeps on growing.

The Latino electorate is bigger and better-educated than ever before, according to a new report by Pew Research Center.

It’s also young. Adults age 18-35 make up nearly half of the record 27.3 million Latinos eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election, the report found.

But although the number of Latinos eligible to vote is surging – 40 percent higher than it was just eight years ago – and education levels are rising, the percentage likely to actually cast ballots in November continues to lag behind other major racial and ethnic groups, the report found.

That’s partly because young people don’t vote as consistently as older people do, but also because Latino eligible voters are heavily concentrated in states – including California, Texas and New York – that are not prime election battlegrounds.

[…]

The explosive growth of the Latino electorate is largely driven by young people born in the U.S. Between 2012 and November of this year, about 3.2 million U.S.-citizen Latinos will have turned 18 and become eligible to vote, according to the report’s projections.

Millennials – adults born in 1981 or later – will account for 44 percent of the Latino electorate by November, according to the report. By comparison, millennials will make up only 27 percent of the white electorate.

The number of Latino potential voters is also being driven by immigrants who are in the U.S. legally and decide to become U.S. citizens. Between 2012 and 2016, some 1.2 million will have done so, according to the report.

Although most new voters are not immigrants, a majority of Latino voters have a direct connection to the immigrant experience, the report noted. That’s an important fact in an election cycle that has been dominated by debates over what do with the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered the U.S. without authorization.

The full report is here. One result of the harsh rhetoric on immigration, and the specter of a Donald Trump candidacy, is a greater push for gaining citizenship among those who are eligible to do so but had not before now.

In what campaigners are calling a “naturalization blitz”, workshops are being hosted across the country to facilitate Hispanic immigrants who are legal, permanent residents and will only qualify to vote in the 2016 presidential election if they upgrade their immigration status.

Citizenship clinics will take place in Nevada, Colorado, Texas and California later this month, with other states expected to host classes in February and early March in order to make the citizenship deadline required to vote in November.

The Republican frontrunner’s hostile remarks about Latino immigrants is driving people to the workshops.

[…]

“Our messaging will be very sharply tied to the political moment, urging immigrants and Latinos to respond to hate with political action and power,” said Maria Ponce of iAmerica Action, an immigrant rights campaign sponsored by the Service Employees International Union.

Several labor unions and advocacy groups are collaborating on the project. In Las Vegas, organizers also intend to hold mock caucuses to educate new voters on the state’s complicated primary process. Nevada is the first early voting state to feature a large Latino population, and that group is eager to make itself known.

“This is a big deal,” said Jocelyn Sida of Mi Familia Vota, a partner in the Nevada event. “We as Latinos are always being told that we’re taking jobs or we’re anchor babies, and all these things are very hurtful. It’s getting to the point where folks are frustrated with that type of rhetoric. They realize the only way they can stop this is by getting involved civically.”

Efforts to increase minority participation in swing state elections are nothing new. Nevada’s powerful Culinary Union has been holding such events for its 57,000 members and their families since 2001. Yet never before has there been a galvanizing figure of the bogeyman variety quite like Trump.

At least he’s good for something. Getting more Latinos to vote (and Asians, too – the report also touches on that) is one thing. Getting more of them elected to office is another.

A new report from a nonpartisan organization focused on getting more Asian-American and Latinos elected to state and local offices found that the two groups are facing obstacles as they seek to achieve greater representation to match their fast-growing populations.

The report, by the New American Leaders Project, found that the groups’ numbers have not grown substantially in those offices — fewer than 2 percent of the 500,000 seats nationally in state and local offices are held by Asian-Americans or Hispanics. Those voters make up more than 20 percent of the United States population, the report notes. Both groups of voters are considered key to the emerging Democratic coalition in national races.

Among the barriers members of these groups faced is that they were less likely to come up with the idea of running for office themselves — usually only doing so if the idea was suggested by another person. Hispanic women also were likelier to report being discouraged “by their political party more than any other group,” the report noted.

Th candidates also tended to rely strongly on support from unions and community groups to be successful, and they found fund-raising one of the most difficult hurdles. That was particularly true among Hispanic women, according to the report.

The report is here. A lot of the barriers, as well as the recommended solutions (see page 21), are similar to those that have been long reported for female candidates. We know the answers, we just need to actually apply them.

All of these are background for how I think about this.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

Months after mounting a passive, ultimately unsuccessful Houston mayoral campaign, Adrian Garcia has swiftly taken on the role of attack dog in his bid to oust longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green from the 29th District in the Democratic primary.

A Garcia press release out Monday morning proclaimed in all caps, “GENE GREEN SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED A LONG TIME AGO,” the latest in a series of statements slamming the incumbent’s record on issues ranging from gun safety to the environment.

Political observers said Garcia’s about-face reflects lessons learned from his recent loss and the nature of a quick primary challenge.

“He needs to give folks a reason not to vote for the entrenched incumbent, so he’s trying to create a differentiation based on policy,” Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer said of Garcia.

“If you think you lost last time because you were too passive, this time you’re going to be more aggressive, and I think there’s a certain element of that involved, as well.”

[…]

Over the last three weeks, Garcia has criticized Green’s voting record on gun safety and environmental legislation while tying him to the district’s comparatively high poverty rate and low rate of educational attainment, among other issues.

“When you know that you’ve got one in three children living in poverty, you’re expecting some leadership from that point,” Garcia said after a press conference Monday announcing the backing of several Latino community leaders. “I’m just speaking to the record.”

I don’t know if Adrian Garcia can beat Gene Green. Green has been a skillful member of Congress for a long time, and Democrats tend to value seniority and experience a lot more than Republicans do. He also hasn’t had to run a campaign in 20 years, and it is unquestionable that the Houston area should have had a Latino member of Congress by now, one way or another. Green has done all the things you’d expect him to do in this race, and he has a ton of support from Latino elected officials (though not unanimous support) and an overall strong record. If we’ve learned anything by now, it’s that this isn’t a business-as-usual election year. So who knows? I wish there were some trustworthy polling available for this race, but I suspect we’re going to have to wait till voting starts to get a feel for this one.

USAA to offer “rideshare” insurance

Noted for future reference.

Uber

USAA has launched a pilot program in Colorado that gives rideshare drivers the opportunity to sign up for a policy that extends their existing USAA coverage and deductibles and provides enhanced coverage the moment rideshare application is turned on until to the moment they are hired to pick up a customer.

This interim phase of the rideshare process, when a driver is technically on the job or driving to the job, but not yet connected with a customer, has proven difficult to resolve in terms of liability and exactly who is responsible for coverage, the driver or the rideshare company.

Commercial use of a personal vehicle may void personal insurance policies in the event of an accident and TNCs don’t want to foot the bill for drivers that aren’t technically “working” for them en route to a specific customer. Many drivers wait in their living rooms or at coffee shops to be hired.

Lyft

“It (the pilot program) covers that gap,” said Jesse Mata, USAA product management director based in San Antonio.

USAA’s pilot policy will act as the primary insurance during this “unmatched phase” of ridesharing, Mata explained. USAA is not the first insurance company to work with rideshare, but it is one of the first major companies to begin to experiment with a new product to cover ridesharing.

According to USAA, the pilot policy costs about $6-$8 more per month, or roughly $40-$50 more for a six-month insurance policy.

The insurance question has been around for as long as Uber and Lyft have been around. It’s come up in all of the city debates about making Uber and Lyft legal to operate as vehicles for hire, and was a particular point of contention in San Antonio. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Colorado, and at what point the question gets revisited here in Texas if it is a success up there.

We don’t need no (sex) education

Here’s the state of Texas leading the nation in yet another unflattering category.

In Texas and across the country, the rate of teenage births has declined significantly since its peak in 1991. Birth rates among teenagers in Texas dropped 43 percent between 1991 and 2012. In states like California and Connecticut, the drop was even larger, and nationwide, the rate declined 52 percent in that period.

But despite the improvements in the Lone Star State, it is faring worse than most. Texas has the nation’s fifth-highest birth rate among teenagers, behind Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and New Mexico. And Texas, where schools are not required to teach sex education, has the highest rate of repeat births among teenagers ages 15 to 19. Teenage birth cost Texas taxpayers $1.1 billion in health care, foster care and lost tax revenue in 2010, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Teenage mothers often drop out of school, specialists said, and their children are also likely to become teenage parents.

Gov. Rick Perry’s office said a drop in the birth rate among teenagers in the last decade corresponded with the state’s abstinence education program.

“Teen pregnancy is a multifaceted issue with many contributing factors,” a spokesman for Perry, Travis Considine, said. Among those factors, advocates said, are race, ethnicity and economic status.

Dr. Janet Realini, president of Healthy Futures of Texas, a nonprofit that works to prevent teenage and unplanned pregnancy, said that Texas’ often ineffective sex education helped explain the state’s comparatively high teenage birth rate. Other factors, she said, include the limited access to health care and insurance for the poor as well as the high rates of school dropouts and poverty.

“It’s this mentality that we’re Texas, we do it our way, we ignore science and kind of go with our gut,” said David Wiley, a professor of health education at Texas State University in San Marcos. “That Wild West mentality about public policy is not helpful.”

One state with similar demographics to Texas is faring much better: California, which cut its teenage birth rate by 64 percent from 1991 to 2012. Melissa Peskin, an assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, said Texas could lower its teenage birth rate by following California’s example in areas like sex education and access to contraception.

Others are not convinced. Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, which promotes family values and abstinence-focused sex education, said California’s abortion rate is higher than Texas’.

“In Texas, since when did we think it was a good idea to adopt any policy from California?” Saenz said.

“I don’t think the proper measure is how do we compare to other states,” he added. “It’s undeniable that not only in our state but across the country, teen birth rates are at historic lows.”

The real problem, he said, is the glamorization of sexual activity.

Boy, you couldn’t come up with a better illustration of what Professor Wiley is talking about if you tried. Jonathan Saenz is the perfect distillation of the idiotic theocracy that our state is beholden to. If you need to be reminded what 2014 is all about, think about him.

Anyway. As you might imagine, the recent budget cuts that slashed family planning funds and forced the closure of dozens of clinics didn’t help. It was so bad even some Republicans are now dimly aware that there’s a connection between unprotected sex and pregnancy. As usual, we’re in the position of hoping we can maybe get back to where we were a few years ago, which is better than where we are now but still way behind where we should be given the state’s robust population growth. Which means we’ll fall even farther behind California, and Colorado, too. Happy now, Jonathan?

On a side note, according to the Trib this story is one entry in a 10-part series on the flip side of state leaders’ aggressive pursuit of the “Texas Miracle”. Other entries will be found here, and see also their Hurting For Work series for more. Kudos on the reporting here, because Lord knows there’s a ton of stories like these out there needing to be told.

Utah will take same sex marriage fight to SCOTUS

This could be the ballgame.

The Utah attorney general’s office announced Wednesday that it will appeal the 10th Circuit Court’s decision last month upholding same-sex marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wednesday was the deadline for the state to seek a full-court review by all 12 judges of the 10th Circuit Court, but, according to a statement from the attorney general’s office, Utah will instead push onward to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The announcement came as dozens of Utah families delivered more than 3,800 petitions to Gov. Gary Herbert’s mansion, asking the state to pull back its appeal of same-sex issues on which judges — both state and federal — have already ruled.

This includes Utah’s landmark Kitchen v. Herbert case, the first in the nation to topple a state ban on gay marriage, as well as a case over whether or not the state is obligated to recognize the nearly 1,300 same-sex marriages performed in the wake of the Dec. 20, 2013 decision by a federal district court judge in Utah striking down the states ban on same-sex marriages.

The timing of the state’s announcement Wednesday was “interesting,” said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, who attended Wednesday’s march.

“We don’t really know if the Supreme Court will take this up or they won’t,” Balken said. “Unfortunately, today we have families, couples, children who are living in legal limbo.”

A statement from the Utah attorney general’s office reiterated the state’s call for “clarity” and “resolution” on the issue of same-sex marriage.

“To obtain clarity and resolution from the highest court, the Utah Attorney General’s Office will not seek en banc review of the Kitchen v. Herbert Tenth Circuit decision, but will file a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United State Supreme Court in the coming weeks,” according to a statement from the attorney general’s office. “Attorney General Sean Reyes has a sworn duty to defend the laws of our state. Utah’s Constitutional Amendment 3 is presumed to be constitutional unless the highest court deems otherwise.”

The 10th Circuit made its ruling two weeks ago, so Utah isn’t wasting any time. SCOTUS doesn’t have to accept Utah’s appeal – if they decline, it simply means that the 10th Circuit Court’s ruling stands and would be the end of the line for Utah and I presume the other states in the Tenth Circuit – but at least some marriage equality proponents would like to see SCOTUS take it up. Freedom to Marry put out a statement saying if by doing so they could “swiftly move to end marriage discrimination across the country”, instead of just in these few states. If SCOTUS does decide to sit this one out, they may be forced to take action later if a different appeals court, like say the Fifth Circuit issues a contradictory ruling. We’ll just have to wait and see.

If SCOTUS does take this up, that could set the stage for a ruling from them in 2016, or possibly late 2015. That in turn might make the 2016 Presidential election an even bigger deal.

So Ohio Senator Rob Portman is considering a run for president, and he claims his support for gay marriage would be a plus in a general election, allowing Republicans to make an economic case to key demographics that are culturally resistant to the GOP. “You can’t become a national party unless you do a better job reaching those between 18 and 30,” Portman says.

This raises the possibility of a scenario that Republicans who agree with Portman — and believe the party must evolve on gay marriage to stay in step with the country’s cultural and demographic shifts — might want to start worrying about right about now.

It’s not hard to imagine that Senator Ted Cruz might make precisely the opposite case from Portman, making the case that the party must reaffirm its support for “traditional marriage” key to his GOP presidential primary run. This could come after the Supreme Court has declared a Constitutional right to gay marriage — which Cruz would then be vociferously calling on Republicans to help roll back.

Gay advocates believe lower court rulings overturning state gay marriage bans on Constitutional equal protection grounds could portend an eventual SCOTUS ruling that enshrines a national right to gay marriage. That could happen in time for the 2016 primary.

That would amount to a powerful declaration that this debate is, or should be, culturally and legally settled. But at that point, unrepentant foes of gay marriage could seize on the ruling to redouble their call for a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Such a measure was introduced by House Republicans as recently as last year. And Senator Cruz supports the idea.

Yes, leave it to Ted Cruz. Do what he says, Republicans! Follow him all the way over that cliff!

Anyway. In other same sex litigation news, a judge in Colorado has struck down that state’s marriage ban. I’ve lost track of how many such wins in a row the good guys have had, but it’s a lot. The biggest prize of them all may be coming soon.

Davis for medical marijuana

Wendy Davis talks to the DMN editorial board and answers some questions about marijuana.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Questions: As you know, both ends of the political spectrum have questioned the nation’s and state’s drug policies and the mass incarceration that has resulted. Even Gov. Perry has said positive things about decriminalization, as he defines it. What changes would you support in Texas law that now allows for jail time for small amounts of marijuana? And, as a separate question, what’s your position on medical marijuana?

Davis: “I do believe that Gov. Perry’s approach is a reasonable approach, that we as a state need to think about the cost of that incarceration and, obviously, the cost to the taxpayers as a consequence of it, and whether we’re really solving any problem for the state by virtue of incarcerations for small amounts of marijuana possession.

“With regard to medical marijuana. I personally believe that medical marijuana should be allowed for. I don’t know where the state is on that, as a population. Certainly as governor I think it’s important to be deferential to whether the state of Texas feels that it’s ready for that.

“We certainly have an opportunity to look at what other states are doing and watch and learn from that. I think Texas is in a position right now of being able to sit back a bit and watch to see how this is playing out in other arenas.”

Follow-up question: Had a bill gone to the Senate to decrease criminal provisions for possession of small amounts of marijuana, would you have voted for it?

Davis: “Yes, I would have.”

Another follow-up: If the Legislature were to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, to let the people decide marijuana legalization, as they did in Colorado and Washington, how would you vote, as a private citizen?

Davis: “I don’t know yet. I want to wait and see what happens in Colorado. I have a daughter who lives in Denver. I think there are some challenges to that law that are presented to law enforcement. In Denver they’re already talking about that, based on my conversations with my daughter, a week or so ago.

“When you stop someone who’s drunk driving, you can easily do a test to make a determination that that’s the case. When you stop someone you believe is driving under the influence of too much marijuana, what is the ability to conduct that same sort of analysis, and do you accidentally ensnare someone who really isn’t under the influence but yesterday smoked marijuana, and it’s still in their blood stream? These are some unique questions and challenges.

“From a philosophical position, do I have any objections to the fact that citizens might want to legalize marijuana? No, I don’t. But I think watching to see how this experiment plays out in other states is probably advisable before I could tell you for sure.”

Final follow-up question: If you were elected governor and the Legislature sent you a bill that made possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil matter, rather than a minor criminal offense, would you sign it?

Davis: “I would consider it.”

The writers note that Greg Abbott has yet to answer any questions on this subject. In a separate post, editorial writer Tod Robberson declared Davis “thoughtful and extremely well informed”. For those of you who might still be peeved at Davis for her statement about open carry, Robberson also noted that her primary opponent, Rey Madrigal, called himself “unabashedly anti-abortion”. Just thought you might want to know that. Finally, on a related note, Democratic Senate candidate Mike Fjetland came out for legalizing marijuana on Monday. It’s not just a Kinky Friedman issue anymore. Juanita has more.

Steve Stockman does something I support

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Zonker

Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, has recently backed a bill to require federal officials to comply with state marijuana laws, which was introduced in April and has since garnered support from Congressmen on both sides of the aisle.

The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013, introduced by California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, would bar federal drug enforcement agents from penalizing any person abiding by the marijuana laws in their own state.

The law “shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws” — that is, people who are in compliance with their state laws regarding possession, manufacture or use of marijuana will not be subjected to federal penalties.

Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C. have already legalized medical marijuana, and both Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use.

Stockman became the 19th sponsor of the bill, according to this website that you might not want to click if you’re at work. Let’s be perfectly clear about this: Steve Stockman is a whackjob, a terrible Congressman, and a reprehensible human being. Nothing about this changes any of that, but it does show that even a reprehensible whackjob can occasionally land on the right side of a public policy matter, even if as PDiddie notes it will have zero effect in his home state. And while I approve of the basic idea in this bill, I am fully aware of the bad history behind the “leave it to the states” argument. I’d much rather see a bill that simply scaled back federal enforcement of marijuana laws, as a prelude to a larger scaling back of the out of control “war on drugs”. But I don’t think we can get to that today, even with polling data showing much greater acceptance of decriminalization. I see that as a multi-step process, with the RSML Act of 2013 being the first step. More states need to take action, and the debate needs a wider airing at the federal level, possibly – hopefully – in the 2016 Presidential election. In the meantime, I support this effort, even if I don’t care for some of the people pushing it. Politics is like that, and you have to start somewhere. Grits and Texpatriate have more.

I do not expect another Ardmore

The AusChron tries to get out the Democrats’ strategy for Special Session 2.

When the Texas House convened last last month to pass, on third reading and onto the Senate for final passage, Senate Bill 5, the omnibus abortion regulations bill, Austin Rep. Elliott Naishtat heard several colleagues discussing whether House Dems would be ready to walk out – to break quorum – in order to stop the measure from moving forward.

Among the questions before Democrats as they face today’s start of a second-called special session, with passage of abortion regulations first on Gov. Rick Perry’s to do list, is whether a mid-summer, out-of-state sojourn may be in the cards. “There was talk about it” on the floor last month, he said, “and there will undoubtedly be talk about it again.”

[…]

With the 30-day special-called session only getting under way today, there is plenty of time for Republicans to maneuver to pass the divisive measures – as one Capitol staffer said last week, not even Davis can talk for 30 days. But there remain other strategies to explore, said Austin Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson – though he declined to offer specifics. “I’m not going to get into strategies,” he said, “but we’re not going to give up the fight.”

[…]

Requiring testimony in each chamber may be one way to moderate the legislation’s forward progress, but it is unlikely to do much to halt the ever-forward movement. So, might a mid-summer trip to a nearby state be the way to go? That’s certainly an option, says [Rep. Donna] Howard. Though, realistically, says Naishtat, he isn’t sure that it would work to derail the measure completely. “I don’t see how House or Senate Democrats could break quorum for the amount of time necessary to defeat the bill – it could be as much as three weeks,” he said. “On the other hand, other people doubted that Sen. Wendy Davis could pull off a filibuster. So what I’m saying is, you never know.” Indeed, Naishtat agrees that at this point, every option is on the table. And it would be “foolish,” he said, for Republicans to “underestimate our power, our intelligence, our mastery of the rules, and our commitment to doing everything legal to prevent the passage of … anti-pro-choice bills.”

I’m not privy to the Dems’ thinking, and I certainly wouldn’t dismiss any feasible possibility out of hand, but I have a hard time seeing how a quorum break would be successful. As with the Davis filibuster, all it can do is delay. It can’t prevent any of this awful legislation from passing, because Rick Perry can just keep calling more sessions, which you know he will. The reason why Ardmore was doable in 2003 was that the Dems only needed to be gone for five days. As with the previous special session, the re-redistricting bill came up late, and it was close enough to the deadline for passing bills out of the House for the Senate to take up that they could bug out on Monday and return on Saturday having accomplished their task. Busting quorum now would be like what the Senate Dems tried to do later that summer. As was the case back then, there was no magic day after which you could say you were in the clear. Maybe they’ve though this through and they know what their endgame is, but I have my doubts. It’s asking an awful lot of a lot of people, and I don’t know how practical it is. I hate to be a wet blanket, and I could be wrong about this, but that’s how I see it.

Two more factors to consider. One is that in the aftermath of Ardmore and Albuquerque, there were some rule changes made in each chamber to make future quorum busts more difficult and more punitive to the fleeing party. I don’t remember the details, but I do feel confident that the Rs would be extremely vengeful towards a caucus that skipped town. Two, back in 2003 the Governors of Oklahoma and New Mexico were both Democrats, and thus unwilling to cooperate with the efforts to locate and extradite the Killer Ds. Both Governors are Republicans now, so no such assistance would be in the offing. The only neighboring state now with a Democratic Governor is Arkansas, but I would not want to put my fate in that state’s hands. The nearest state where I’d feel safe, politically speaking at least, is Colorado. Point being, any out of state excursion would need to be done by air, not by bus, which increases the cost, the risk factor, and the likelihood of something going wrong because there’s just too much you can’t control.

Anyway. If it were up to me, I’d do everything I could to drag the proceedings out, while giving the crazier members of the GOP caucus as many opportunities to say something as stupid as Rep. Laubenberg did last session, and I’d lay whatever groundwork I could for litigation to block the law. The name of the game is the 2014 election. Go down fighting, keep everyone engaged, and be ready to pick up where you left off as soon as the session ends. Be sure to read the whole AusChron story, there’s a lot more in there besides quorum breaking.

Bye-bye, Big XII

Good-bye, Colorado.

The Pac-10 announced Thursday that the University of Colorado has agreed to leave the Big 12 to join its conference.

“This is an historic moment for the conference, as the Pac-10 is poised for tremendous growth,” commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement.

“The University of Colorado is a great fit for the conference both academically and athletically and we are incredibly excited to welcome Colorado to the Pac-10.”

[…]

A source with direct knowledge of the Pac-10’s discussions about adding more Big 12 teams told ESPN’s Joe Schad on Thursday that from the Pac-10’s perspective, it’s “simply a matter of who signs next.”

Colorado’s move might spell the end of the Big 12 Conference. Nebraska is also poised to announce its move from the conference to the Big Ten.

Texas and Texas A&M officials are scheduled to meet Thursday at an undisclosed location to discuss the future of their athletic programs and the Big 12 amid speculation the league could be raided by rival conferences and broken apart.

Did someone say Nebraska?

All signs are pointing to a Nebraska move to the Big Ten.

A source close to the Nebraska program told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that athletic director Tom Osborne informed some staff members within the past 24 hours the Cornhuskers were going to make the move to the Big Ten conference.

A source with knowledge of the Big Ten’s plans confirmed to ESPN.com that Nebraska will join the Big Ten by the end of the week or early next week. The source said the formal process of accepting a candidate either has started or would be under way shortly, as Nebraska must formally apply for admission to the Big Ten.

“It’s going to happen, unless something crazy happens in the final hours,” the source said. “I think by this weekend, it’s going to be wrapped up.”

Sean Pendergrast has more. For those of you keeping score at home, that would give the Big 10 twelve members, the PAC 10 eleven members, and the Big XII ten members. For now. Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.

Actually, that’s a point that shouldn’t be a joke. Nobody knows what will happen; in particular, nobody knows exactly what the Texas public universities that are affected by this will do. State Rep. Jim Dunnam thinks they ought to be more transparent about it:

The current Big-12 debate should not be what’s best for just Baylor, or just UT. The center of discussion should be what’s best for Texas as a whole, and the debate should be conducted in public, not back rooms.

We have public institutions to improve all our lives: public parks, libraries, swimming pools, museums. Public universities and their sports programs are the same thing.

The UT, A&M and Tech charters speak of enhancing the lives of every Texan, not one football program. The “Core Purpose” stated in the UT “Compact with Texans” says, “To transform lives for the benefit of society.”

For Notre Dame, maybe it’s different. But UT, A&M and Tech are public. Their football teams are not owned by one Athletic Director or a Board of Regents. They were founded and are owned by the people of Texas. They are valuable assets of our state. Mack Brown has done a great job as coach, but it took the support of generations of Texans to get him and his team on the field. University board members serve to protect the public trust of the citizens of Texas. Not just wealthy alums. Not TV networks.

[…]

Backroom deals with TV executives trading our state pastime for rating points is wrong. When I vote on changing Texas by law and statute, I do it after public hearings, after public debate and with a public vote. Every Regent was appointed by Governor Perry and confirmed by the Texas Senate, and they owe Texans the same openness and transparency in this decision.

That’s from an op-ed he sent out, which may wind up in a newspaper near you, or you can just read it here. I think he’s right, and I think it’s time for there to be some discussion of what this means and how these schools should conduct this business. It shouldn’t just be the regents’ decision.

The Baylor-PAC 10 emails

It’s impossible to keep up with all of the Big 12/PAC 10/Big 10 stuff, and the many possible permutations of what could happen, but I was amused by the emails from a Baylor regent trying to whip up support for their inclusion in any mass migration to the PAC 16 over Colorado.

Wrote [Baylor regent and prominent lobbyist Buddy] Jones: “We cannot let the other schools in Texas (A&M, U.T., Tech) leave the Big XII WITHOUT BAYLOR BEING INCLUDED IN THE PACKAGE. Long and short – if U.T., A&M and Tech demand that any move to any other conference include ALL TEXAS BASED TEAMS from the Big XII, we are golden. We need to be in a PACKAGE DEAL!”

[…]

Jones argues that Baylor is better than Colorado as a potential Pac-10 team because, “Baylor is superior to Colorado academically. Baylor has athletic facilities superior to Colorado. Colorado doesn’t participate in the number of sports that Baylor does. Baylor’s overall record in all collegiate sports dwarfs that of Colorado.”

Jones also points to Nebraska as being a key to the conference realignment. He opines that: “It’s hard enough get the home teams to stick tight. But harder still to influence a bunch of corn shuckers.”

I’m sure he meant that in the nicest possible way. The Denver Post managed to get a couple of people on the record about the Baylor-versus-Colorado thing.

Powerful Baylor alumni said today that the Texas State Legislature is looking into ways to help their alma mater.

As Kip Averitt, who retired in March after 17 years as a state senator and is a 1977 Baylor grad, told The Denver Post: “If it’s one or the other, I’d rather it be us than you.”

[…]

“I think there’s a desire to have regional participation in all of the athletics,” said State Rep. Jim Dunnam (D-Waco), Baylor class of ’86. “If you don’t have Texas and Texas A&M and Tech and Baylor playing one another, you lose the regional nature of your conference.

“It’s fun to play Ohio State every now and then but people come in day in, day out for that regional competition.”

[…]

“We’re on the same academic tier as Colorado,” Averitt said. “Both of our schools are at the top of the spectrum. That can’t be an issue. But for us down here, we’re kind of a family. We like to compete against our family.

“It’s nothing against Colorado at all. We like to travel up to Colorado from time to time. It’s a beautiful state. But when it comes to conference realignment, it’s a huge deal to Baylor University and central Texas economics.”

Colorado’s appeal to the Pac-10, besides a closer proximity, is it’s a member of the prestigious American Association of Universities. While Baylor is not, it’s considered one of the best academic institutions in Texas.

Athletically, Baylor boasts the most Big 12 championships outside of Texas and Nebraska. Baylor officials quickly point out that Colorado does not carry non-revenue sports that are popular in the Pac-10 such as softball, baseball and men’s tennis.
“We think that also should be a consideration,” Averitt said. “We’re across the board.”

Is it just me, or does anyone else hear Frank Sinatra crooning in the background?

I dunno. I guess it could happen. Baylor’s arguments are quite logical. But I think Buck Harvey is correct in that logic will be trumped by numbers.

Colorado doesn’t dominate its region the way Nebraska does. But it is still the state’s largest school with the potential to be more. Baylor, bordered by UT on one edge and A&M on another, isn’t a growth business.

Then there are the numbers. Boulder, Colo., is 25 miles from Denver and is included in that city’s television market. It’s the 16th largest in the nation, the reason four major pro sports are there.

Waco is combined with Bryan and Temple on the same list, yet is 89th overall — just above Jackson, Miss.

This sure is fun to watch, isn’t it? In closing, I leave you with Dan Wetzel, who makes a strong case for how supporting a football playoff would have saved the Big 12 from the current attempts to pick its carcass, and Sean Pendergast, who compares the spot the Big 12 is in to that of the Big East of 2003. Check ’em out.

Baylor versus Colorado

Like Justin, I find this a little hard to believe.

Political forces in the state of Texas are preparing to demand that Baylor — not Colorado — should be one of the schools in the mix should the Pac-10 extend an invitation to six Big 12 schools to join its ranks, according to Orangebloods.com.

[…]

“If you’re going to have an exported commodity involved in this, do you think we’re going to allow a school from outside the state of Texas to replace one of our schools in the Big 12 South? I don’t think so. We’re already at work on this,” the site quoted a a high-ranking member of the Texas Legislature as saying.

The source said that there is a block of 15 legislators working to make sure that Baylor, not Colorado, is invited to join the Pac-10. The source pointed to the political and economic importance of keeping the Big 12’s Texas schools together as well as Colorado’s recent athletic struggles and lack of sports such as baseball, softball and men’s tennis.

Hard to imagine there are 15 legislators who care that much about what happens to Baylor, but I suppose anything is possible. Let’s just say I will remain skeptical about this until such time as I see some names attached to these reports. More on that from a PAC 10 perspective is here.

Meanwhile, what the PAC 10 decides to do is dependent in part on what the Big 10 decides to do.

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who chairs the men’s basketball committee, compared the conference’s discussions here to his committee’s shortly before it expanded March Madness to 68 teams. At one point, the idea of a 96-team field was floated before the more modest change was adopted. That could be what happens in the Pac-10 — with the latest whopper just a bombshell that spurs talks.

“We went through an exercise of due diligence and really decided to look at all the possible scenarios and all the options to see what might be in the best interest of the association long term,” Guerrero said. “We’re doing the exact same thing here. We’re in a due-diligence process.”

USC athletic director Mike Garrett, whose football and basketball programs are under investigation for NCAA rules violations, declined comment.

The future look of the Pac-10 could depend on what happens with the Big Ten. If Notre Dame elects to join that conference, the likelihood is that any Pac-10 expansion would be modest. But if the Big Ten pulls in Nebraska and Missouri instead, the Big 12 could be in danger of crumbling. The Pac-10 wants to be position to scoop up some of those schools, particularly Texas, which brings with it a large, lucrative TV audience.

The NCAA Tournament analogy is instructive. In the end, we could get Notre Dame to the Big 10 (which, as it currently has 11 members, would make it another Big 12, albeit not in name) and little else. Until Nebraska and Missouri make up their minds, for which they reportedly has two weeks to do, we’ll see a lot of speculation. And a multidimensional Prisoner’s Dilemma:

In the middle, the Big 12 presses against these encroaching walls with increasing uncertainty, much of it rooted in distrust across the North and South divisions. A unified membership committed to the future of the conference would likely be safe from the poachers, and on some level, it’s possible no individual member is actually anxious to leave the conference as it’s existed since 1995; as Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers said last week, he prefers remaining in the Big 12 if “the conference stays intact, completely intact, with all 12 members.” That depends on the conference’s anchors, Nebraska and Texas, neither of which is interested in remaining without the other, but neither of which can guarantee it isn’t ready to ship out for (literally) greener pastures.

The PAC 10 Commissioner has been given the authority to pursue expansion, so the dominoes are lined up and awaiting a catalyst. And once again, let me just say as a Rice fan, my heart breaks for these guys. May they all get indigestion while they make up their minds just how obscenely rich they want to be.

More vote centers coming to Texas

I personally really like the concept of “vote centers”, which is basically Early Voting locations done on Election Day as well. I like them because it means you never have to worry about which polling place you need to go to, which in turn means it’s basically impossible to pull the old-fashioned vote-suppression stunt of directing people to the wrong polling location. So I’m glad to hear that they are considered the wave of the future in Texas.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Steve Raborn said that Tarrant isn’t prepared to adopt the vote center model for a number of reasons but that many public officials see it as “the wave of the future” because it is believed to increase turnout and lower costs. County commissioners would have to approve such a change.

Critics of electronic voting machines worry that vote centers could be the last nail in the coffin for paper ballots in Texas.

“Anything that pushes more electronics we think is a really bad idea,” said Vickie Karp, national director of the Coalition for Visible Ballots and a leader of Austin-based Vote Rescue.

The vote center model began in 2003 in Colorado and has since spread to other states. Though the results aren’t conclusive, turnout for local elections tends to increase in counties that use vote centers, [Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that tracks election equipment use nationwide] said.

[…]

State lawmakers passed a bill this year allowing more counties to try out the model. In August, Collin County commissioners approved a plan to take part in the pilot program. On Nov. 3, 57 vote centers will be operating around the county instead of the usual 129 polling places.

In a vote center model, every Election Day polling place must be able to serve every voter in the county. That makes it difficult to offer paper ballots, as every site would need a supply of every possible ballot form.

That troubles critics of electronic voting machines, who argue that only hand-counted paper ballots give voters the confidence that their votes are being properly counted.

“Voters as consumers are looking at what is easiest, what is fastest, what’s the most convenient and that’s what election officials are looking at,” Karp said. “But none of those criteria are looking at the sanctity of the ballot.”

All due respect to Ms. Karp, but I consider getting rid of pen-and-paper ballots to be a feature, not a bug. I certainly agree that there are a host of issues with electronic voting machines that have not been adequately addressed, and that a lot of people are in denial about, and will continue to be until a real disaster strikes. But paper ballots have their own security concerns, and are much more likely to be simply misread or discounted because the voter’s intent is (supposedly) not clear. Further, the ease, speed, and convenience that she seems to dismiss is the sort of thing that enables people to vote in a timely manner, rather than leave in disgust after waiting in line forever. Being able to handle a larger-than-expected volume is a plus for voting centers. During the 2008 Democratic primary, which is the best example of that situation we may ever have, people had the option of seeking out an early voting location that wasn’t as busy as some of the others; I cast my vote at the Power Center at South Main and S Post Oak and was in and out in ten minutes. That kind of flexibility is a real virtue and shouldn’t be diminished.

By the same token, I don’t want to diminish the value of a paper trail. I continue to believe that requiring a paper printout of every ballot cast on an electronic voting machine is a crucial component of ballot box security, and would serve as a failsafe in the event that an EVM’s memory stick got lost or damaged. It’s just that I believe in paper receipts to electronically-cast ballots, which can and should be used on all of our EVMs, whether at a vote center or a traditional Election Day polling place. I don’t want to see vote centers being cast as somehow being incompatible with the idea of paper ballots, because as I see it this is not at all the case.

On the matter of turnout

This Star-Telegram story about turnout in the 2008 election versus turnout in the 2004 election has got some people talking.

The presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain sent more Texans to the polls last year, but the state still had one of the lowest turnouts in the country, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

After factoring in population growth, turnout in Texas dropped 1 percentage point from 2004.

About 8.4 million voters cast ballots in the state in the November election, roughly half a million more than in 2004.

But that growth didn’t keep pace with the rise in the state’s population, so turnout actually dropped, from 57 percent in 2004 to 56 percent in 2008. That puts Texas 45th among the states in 2008; it was 47th in 2004.

Turnout rose among black voters in Texas from 2004 to 2008, but dropped among Hispanics and Asians. An additional 263,000 blacks voted in 2008, increasing turnout from 58 to 65 percent. Hispanic turnout decreased from 42 to 38 percent, despite an additional 164,000 voters. Turnout among Asians fell to 34 percent from 43 percent, with 34,000 fewer voting.

In Texas, while 71,000 more voters ages 18 to 24 cast ballots in 2008, the turnout for that age group dropped from 39 percent in 2004 to 36 percent in 2008. Voters ages 65 to 74 saw the largest gain, from 69 percent in 2004 to 74 percent in 2008.

BOR expresses disappointment about the youth-voting numbers. EoW has some extra links. Marc Campos goes on one of his rants about the lack of a Latino voter outreach effort. My reaction is one of puzzlement. I have no idea where some of these numbers are coming from. Let’s take a look at some figures from the Secretary of State page on voter registration and turnout, and you’ll see what I mean.

2008 – November (Presidential)
Registered Voters
13,575,062
Voting Age Population (VAP)
17,735,442
Percentage of VAP Registered
76.54
Turnout
8,077,795
Percent of Turnout to Registered
59.50
Percent of Turnout to VAP
45.55
2004 – November (Presidential)
Registered Voters
13,098,329
Voting Age Population (VAP)
16,071,153
Percentage of VAP Registered
81.50
Turnout
7,410,749
Percent of Turnout to Registered
56.57
Percent of Turnout to VAP
46.11

So first off, I have no idea where the story gets the 8.4 million voters number, nor where it gets the 56% figure, as that implies a population of 15 million, and I don’t see anything to connect it to that. The Austin Business Journal refers to “56% of adults”, but I don’t see how “adults” differs from “voting age population”. Similarly, for 2004, the implied numbers are 7.9 million voters out of 13.9 million. At least I can see where that latter figure comes from, but not the former. Maybe we’re counting undervotes, or provisional ballots that were later rejected? I couldn’t say.

But be that as it may, it seems to me the story here isn’t one of turnout, which appears to me at least to have gone up as a percentage of voting age population (VAP), but one of voter registration, which clearly lagged the growth in population. It’s possible that some of that is due to more rapid growth among adults in non-citizens and ineligible voters. We also know, however, that in Harris County at least, voter registration figures were down from 2004 thanks to former Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt and his efforts to scrub the voter rolls as well as his frequent rejections of new voter registrations. Harris was unlike other big counties in this regard, so that’s just a part of it as well, but the point I’m making is that when the percentage of VAP being registered goes from 81.5 to 76.5 in four years’ time, that’s what we need to be focusing on. Democrats in Colorado have closed the registration gap with Republicans by aggressively pursuing previously unregistered voters. I’m not going to claim we can do what Colorado Dems have done because I know we can’t, but there certainly is some ground to be gained there. At the very least, I want to have a better understanding of why the percentage of registered voters was down so much. That’s the message I get from this.

UPDATE: The Contrarian has more.

The western SUPERTRAIN

You’ve heard of the Texas T-Bone SUPERTRAIN proposal that would link up Houston. San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas. That’s already been designated as one of the high-speed rail corridors that are in line for federal funding. There’s another such corridor that includes Texas and it’s farther out west.

New Mexico, Colorado and Texas are applying for federal funds to study the viability of a high-speed rail system in the hopes of putting new life into passenger railroads in the Intermountain West.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said Thursday the 720-mile high-speed rail system would travel at speeds of 110 mph to more than 200 mph from El Paso, Texas, through Albuquerque to Denver.

“The West was connected to the rest of the country by railroads. Our history is until the 1880s and the coming of the railroads, we were isolated,” Udall said. “You could view (the proposed high-speed rail corridor) as a second wave which revives the railroads that we’ve allowed to wither.”

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Udall, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the three states will submit a joint pre-application Friday for up to $5 million to pay for the study.

Congress has authorized up to 11 high-speed rail corridors nationwide. Ten have been designated, and the three states hope to become home to the 11th.

“Today, you cannot get from Albuquerque to Denver by rail without changing trains in Los Angeles or Chicago, and our regional railways run from East to West, with no North-South connections,” Udall said.

[…]

The Federal Railroad Administration will decide which region gets the 11th high-speed rail corridor designation based on the strength of their applications, FRA spokesman Rob Kulat said.

New Mexico, Colorado and Texas may have competition. Kulat declined to say how many pre-applications for feasibility studies the FRA has received so far.

“Quite a few are in already, but the number is going to grow by tomorrow,” he said.

Final applications for the grants are due Aug. 24, he said.

Seems like a reasonable place for a rail corridor. I wish them luck.