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Craig Estes

2018 primary results: Legislative

Rep. Sarah Davis

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

(Please note that all results were coming in very slowly. I expect there will still be some precincts not yet reported by the time this publishes. So, I’m going to be less specific than usual, and may have to make a correction or two by Thursday.)

I’m gonna lead with the Republicans this time. Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson, both viciously targeted by Greg Abbott, won their races easily. Sarah, here’s that picture I mentioned before. Also, too, the anti-vaxxers can suck it (in this race; they unfortunately appear to have claimed a scalp elsewhere). Abbott did manage to unseat the mediocre Wayne Faircloth, who was the most conservative of his three targets. Party on, Greg!

Back to the good side: Rita Lucido was leading Fran Watson in SD17, but was short of a majority. Beverly Powell won in SD10, Wendy Davis’ old district. Mark Phariss was leading in SD08, but it was too close to call. On the Republican side, Rep. Pat Fallon destroyed Sen. Craig Estes in SD30, but Sen. Kel Seliger beat back the wingnuts again in SD31. Sen. John Whitmire won easily. Joan Huffman easily held off Kristin Tassin on her side of SD17. And Angela Paxton won in SD08 over the lesser Huffines brother. Apparently, two Paxtons are better than one, and also better than two Huffineses.

Other incumbents in both parties had more trouble. On the D side, longtime Rep. Robert Alonzo lost to Jessica Gonzalez in HD104; her election increases the number of LGBT members of the Lege by one. First term Rep. Diana Arevalo lost to former Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer in HD116, and first-term Rep. Tomas Uresti, no doubt damaged by his brother’s legal problems, lost to Leo Pacheco. And Dawnna Dukes’ odyssey came to an end as challengers Sheryl Cole and Chito Vela both ran way ahead of her. Other Dems, including (sigh) Ron Reynolds hung on, though Rep. Rene Oliveira was headed to a runoff with Alex Dominguez in HD37. For the Rs, Rep. Jason Villalba was going down in HD114 – he was an anti-vaxxer target, though there were other factors in that race, so it sure would be nice for Dems to pick that one off in November. Rep. Scott Cosper was headed to a runoff in HD54. Other incumbents, including those targeted by the extreme wingnut coalition, made it through.

For Harris County, the following challengers won: Natali Hurtado (HD126; she celebrated by going into labor, so double congratulations to her), Gina Calanni (HD132), Adam Milasincic (HD138). Sandra Moore was briefly above 50% in HD133, but ultimately fell back below it to wind up in a runoff with Marty Schexnayder. Allison Lami Sawyer had a slightly easier time of it, collecting over 90% of the vote against the idiot Lloyd Oliver. Maybe, just maybe, this will be enough to convince Oliver that his run-for-office marketing strategy has come to the end of its usefulness. Sam Harless was on the knife’s edge of a majority in HD126 on the R side; if he falls short, Kevin Fulton was in second place.

There will be a few runoffs in other races around the state. I’ll get back to that another day.

Filing roundup: State Senate

In 2014, Democrats contested five of the eleven Republican-held State Senate seats on the ballot, plus the seat that was vacated by Wendy Davis, which was won by Republican Konni Burton. This year, Democrats have candidates in eleven of these twelve districts. I wanted to take a closer look at some of these folks. For convenience, I collected the filing info for Senate and House candidates from the SOS page and put it all in this spreadsheet.

Kendall Scudder

SD02Kendall Scudder (Facebook)

SD03 – Shirley Layton

SD05Brian Cronin (Facebook)
SD05Glenn “Grumpy” Williams
SD05Meg Walsh

SD07David Romero

SD08Brian Chaput
SD08 – Mark Phariss

SD09Gwenn Burud

SD10Allison Campolo (Facebook)
SD10Beverly Powell (Facebook)

SD16Joe Bogen (Facebook)
SD16Nathan Johnson (Facebook)

SD17Fran Watson (Facebook)
SD17Rita Lucido (Facebook)
SD17 – Ahmad Hassan

SD25Jack Guerra (Facebook)
SD25Steven Kling (Facebook)

SD30Kevin Lopez

I skipped SDs 14, 15, and 23, which are held by Democrats Kirk Watson, John Whitmire, and Royce West. Whitmire has two primary opponents, the others are unopposed. Let’s look at who we have here.

Kendall Scudder is a promising young candidate running in a tough district against a truly awful incumbent. First-term Sen. Bob Hall is basically Abe Simpson after a couple years of listening to Alex Jones. If he runs a good race, regardless of outcome, Scudder’s got a future in politics if he wants it.

Shirley Layton is the Chair of the Angelina County Democratic Party, which includes Lufkin. Robert Nichols is the incumbent.

All of the contested primaries look like they will present some good choices for the voters. In SD05, Brian Cronin, who has extensive experience in state government, looks like the most polished candidate to take on Charles Schwertner. Grumpy Williams is easily the most colorful candidate in any of these races. There wasn’t enough information about Meg Walsh for me to make a judgment about her.

I’ve previously mentioned Mark Phariss’ entry into the SD08 race at the filing deadline. He doesn’t have a website or Facebook page up yet, but you could read this Texas Monthly story about him and his husband for a reminder of who Phariss is and why he matters. This seat is being vacated by Van Taylor, and the demonic duo of Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines are running for it on the GOP side.

I couldn’t find much about either David Romero or Gwenn Burud, but in searching for the latter I did find this Star-Telegram story, which tells me that the Tarrant County Democratic Party did a great job filling out their slate. The incumbent here is Kelly Hancock.

Elsewhere in Tarrant County, the primary for SD10, which is overall the most closely divided district, ought to be salty. Powell is clearly the establishment candidate, having been endorsed by folks like Wendy Davis and Congressman Mark Veasey. Campolo identifies herself as a Bernie Sanders supporter. I expect there will be some elbows thrown. The winner gets to try to knock out Konni Burton.

Joe Bogen and Nathan Johnson seem pretty evenly matched to me. They’re battling for the right to take on the awful Don Huffines, whose SD16 is probably the second most vulnerable to takeover.

In SD17, Fran Watson, who is a former President of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, has been in the race for a few months. Rita Lucido, who was the candidate against Joan Huffman in 2014, filed on deadline day. The presence of perennial candidate Ahmad Hassan means this one could go to a runoff.

Both Jack Guerra and Steven Kling look like good guys in SD25. No doubt, both would be a big improvement over the zealot incumbent Donna Campbell.

Last but not least, Kevin Lopez is a City Council member in the town of Bridgeport. He joins Beverly Powell, who serves on the Burleson ISD Board of Trustees, as the only current elected officials running for one of these offices. The incumbent in SD30 is Craig Estes, and he is being challenged in the Republican primary.

Winning even one of these seats would be great. Winning two would bring the ratio to 18-13 R/D, which would be a big deal because the old two thirds rule is now a “sixty percent” rule, meaning that 19 Senators are enough to bring a bill to the floor, where 21 had been needed before. Needless to say, getting the Republicans under that would be a big deal, though of course they could throw that rule out all together if they want to. Be that as it may, more Dems would mean less power for Dan Patrick. I think we can all agree that would be a good thing. None of this will be easy – Dems are underdogs in each district, with more than half of them being very unfavorable – but at least we’re competing. National conditions, and individual candidates, will determine how we do.

The secret sexual predators of Texas politics

Come in, sit down, make yourself comfortable. Maybe a nice cup of hot tea? There now, all settled in? Good. Now steel yourselves and read this.

More than a year before the now-infamous “shitty media men” list, women in Texas’s statehouse secretly created their own online whisper network to document sexual harassment and assault in their industry.

This spreadsheet, called the “Burn Book of Bad Men,” lists 38 men, named by an unknown number of women who contributed anonymously to the document. Its accusations run the gamut from pay discrimination to creepy comments and sexual assault.

The men in the document include campaign workers, legislative staffers, and lawmakers. Some of the allegations are recent; others stretch back 20 years. Most of the women who contributed to the list and circulated it early on worked for Democrats, so most of the accused men are also Democratic officials or staffers.

More than one sexual-assault allegation on the list involves a man on a Democratic political campaign, according to women who contributed to the spreadsheet.

Excerpts of the document, but not the full list, were reviewed by The Daily Beast this week.

For years before the document existed online, this type of information “just kind of lived in whisper circles,” said Rebecca*, who started the list in the fall of 2016.

Rebecca told The Daily Beast that she worked in Texas politics for about two years before giving up and leaving the state because the political environment was “toxic and horrible.”

Sexism in the Texas state legislature is well-documented, in both vague and explicit terms.

In 2005, Republican State Sen. Craig Estes allegedly propositioned an intern at my former publication, The Texas Observer, on her first day in the Capitol. He let her know that if she needed any “adult supervision,” she was welcome to “see him in his office,” according to the magazine. The implication was clear, and it was included in the magazine’s list of notable quotes that year.

In 2013, I wrote a lengthy story about how men were—in addition to regularly making crude jokes at work—caught looking at porn on the Texas House and Senate floor. Others asked about their colleagues’ breasts during debates. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving female state legislator in Texas history, once told me a horrifying tale about a lawmaker who nicknamed her his “black mistress.”

(Depressingly, there’s a long list of similarly toxic situations in other statehouses, including in CaliforniaMassachusettsKentuckyFloridaIllinoisOregon, and Kansas.)

My story documented the misogyny of the “good ol’ boys’ club,” but it didn’t cover even a fraction of the previously unreported accusations in Rebecca’s living document.

Now go read the rest of the story, which contains a few names and a lot more personal accounts. Then go read RG Ratcliffe for a bit of historical perspective; in short, things aren’t much better now than they were thirty years ago. Keep in mind that the list in question was put together mostly by Democratic women, so there are undoubtedly a bunch of Republican stories to tell, too.

Finished reading them? Good. Now let’s talk about what we can do about it. A few thoughts:

– First and foremost, listen to women when they tell you their stories. (Actually, even before that, be the kind of person that women will trust to tell their stories.) Know what is happening and what has been happening.

– When you see or hear about stuff like this, take action to stop it. Call out the bad behavior and the men who are committing it. It won’t be easy. I know I’ve missed plenty of opportunities in my life to do this, through obliviousness or cowardice. All of us, me very much included, have to do better.

– We really can’t give a pass to anyone, even if they have done good work and otherwise fought the good fight. That’s going to be hard and painful, but it’s the only way. Everyone has to be accountable for their actions.

– Ultimately, the way to make something less of a “boys’ club” is to improve the gender balance. There’s plenty of social science research to back that up. I’m not claiming this is some kind of panacea – among other things, I’m not nearly naive enough to think that given truly equal access and opportunity, women will be any less conniving, dishonest, or generally shitty than men are. Human nature is what it is, after all. I am saying that a legislature that is closer to fifty-fifty – right now, less than twenty percent of legislators in Texas are female – will at the very least be a better place for women to work. There’s a vicious cycle at work here – we need more women involved, not just as legislators but also as staffers, political operatives, lobbyists, reporters, and so forth, but the existing hostile climate drives them away and makes it that much harder to achieve the balance we need. Maybe, just maybe, if the men who are the biggest part of the problem come to understand that their bad behavior can and will be made public, that will make it a little easier.

(Yes, I know, I wrote this whole piece without mentioning Roy Moore. I’ll have something to say about him tomorrow. For now, let’s concentrate on that mote in our own eye.)

Two GOP State Reps seek Senate promotions

Item One:

Rep. Cindy Burkett

State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, launched a challenge Tuesday to state Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, setting up a Republican primary clash in North Texas.

“I am proud of what I have accomplished for Texas and for all people who share my conservative values,” Burkett said in a news release. “Serving in the Texas Senate will allow me to continue and expand this work.”

Burkett is serving her fourth term in the House, where she chairs the Redistricting Committee. She first won election to House District 101 in 2010. After HD-101 was altered by redistricting in 2011, Burkett successfully ran for House District 113, which she currently represents.

Hall, a Tea Party activist, won the Senate District 2 seat three years ago in an upset victory over Bob Deuell, the Republican incumbent from Greenville. Burkett was once an aide to Deuell in the Senate.

[…]

At least two candidates are already running for Burkett’s seat in HD-113. They include Garland Republican Jonathan Boos and Rowlett Democrat Rhetta Bowers, both of whom unsuccessfully challenged Burkett in 2016.

This race is of interest for several reasons. First and foremost, HD113 is a top target next year. Like all Dallas County districts, it was carried by Hillary Clinton, but it was also very close at the downballot level. Having it be an open seat is likely to be better for the Democrats, and may possibly be a signal that the Republicans don’t like their prospects. Bob Hall is a dithering fool, but much of SD02 is outside Dallas County, and some of that turf may not be very hospitable to a suburban establishment type, especially one who is already talking about playing well with others. If Burkett means what she says, she could be a marginal improvement on Hall – the bar is pretty low here, as Hall is awful – but Burkett was the author of the regular session omnibus anti-abortion bill, so don’t expect much.

Item Two:

State Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, is making it official: He is challenging state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls.

“They just desperately want somebody new,” Fallon said of voters in Senate District 30, which Estes has represented since 2001. “It’s been 16 years — it’s going to be 18 years. They want a change. They don’t see him around.”

Fallon had been seriously mulling a Senate bid for months, crisscrossing the 14-county district in North Texas since at least the end of the regular legislative session in May. He first shared his decision to run Tuesday with a newspaper in SD-30, the Weatherford Democrat.

In an interview with the Tribune, Fallon said he was “shocked” to learn in his travels how many local officials view Estes as an absentee senator. Fallon, who loaned his campaign $1.8 million in June, also said he was prepared to “spend every dime and then some” to get his message out in the race.

“It’s a moral obligation,” he said. “We simply need in this district to close one chapter and open up a new one.”

Not much to be said about this one. Estes is basically a waste of space, while Fallon is more of a new school jackass. Neither district is competitive. Someone will win the race, but no one will truly win.

Finally, along those same lines, Angela Paxpn – wife of you-know-who – has officially announced her candidacy for SD08, where she will face off against Phillip Huffines, brother of Sen. Don Huffines. We first heard about this a couple of weeks ago. With any luck, Huffines will spend a bunch of his money attacking Angela Paxton by attacking Ken Paxton. Surely that’s not asking for too much.

War on local control update

Example one:

Sen. Craig Estes’ Senate Bill 18 would require cities and counties to get voter approval if they plan to spend a certain amount more than they did in a previous year. His bill ties such an election trigger to inflation and statewide population growth.

“You ask people about that and they generally think that’s a good thing,” the Wichita Falls Republican said Friday.

But local government officials and advocates for municipal government say the measure will hinder their ability to afford services that residents expect. They also say it will make it hard to keep up with population growth — especially in booming suburbs growing much faster than the state as a whole.

“We’re planning our budgets multiple years in the future because we’ve got so many capital projects that we can’t just look at budgets from year to year,” said Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney, whose North Texas city grew almost four times as fast as Texas did from 2015 to 2016.

Estes’ bill, plus others aimed at giving voters more frequent say over their property tax rates, are on the docket for Senate committees this weekend. They fall in line with several items on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session call that seek to limit powers cities and counties have long exercised. Other bills being considered Saturday and Sunday would change how and when municipalities regulate land use and annex land outside their borders.

State leaders say they are trying to both respond to Texans’ complaints about rising property tax bills and protect landowners’ rights from local regulations. But local elected officials say lawmakers and top state leaders are unfairly portraying cities and counties as irresponsible stewards of taxpayer money to score political points with voters ahead of next year’s primaries.

Such tensions highlight a growing divide over how much say city and county officials should have over local matters. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the proposed spending cap is another example of lawmakers trying to control officials who are elected to represent Texans at the local level.

“It certainly flies in the face of the very important democratic principle that we’ve adhered to for centuries in self governance,” Nirenberg said.

[…]

Estes couldn’t point to any examples of cities or counties dramatically increasing their spending in recent years. He said his office is currently collecting data from local governments on it. And he said he’s open to tweaking provisions in his bill as it moves through the Legislature.

But he shrugged off the notion that the state shouldn’t be telling local governments what to do. He said counties are extensions of state government, and that cities “reside in the state.”

“I don’t think that’s really an issue, that we don’t have any jurisdiction in what they’re doing,” he said. “We do.”

Don’t bother making the analogy to states and the country, because that’s Totally Different and Not The Same Thing At All, because it just is and that’s that. I would just point out that several of the Mayors who signed that letter opposing stuff like this are Republicans. This is not a partisan issue, it’s one of power and the belief of Abbott and Patrick, enabled by Patrick’s minions in the Senate, that they’re the only legitimate form of government. It’s crazy that we’ve come to this place, but here we are.

Example two:

A bill aimed at protecting property owners’ rights from changing local government regulations could undo years of safety and land use rules and create a building environment in Texas with the potential for bars to pop up in residential neighborhoods, critics say.

Some local officials are calling Senate Bill 12 the “hyper-grandfathering” bill that goes far beyond current state provisions by retroactively applying to each property the land use and safety codes that were in place the last time the property was sold. In the extreme, SB 12 could lead to broad land use possibilities for parcels of land that haven’t changed hands in decades, according to six local government and public policy experts tracking the bill.

[…]

The bill’s author, Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said in a statement it would protect property owners from new county or city regulations that would upend the plans that people had when they bought the land.

“Since filing Senate Bill 12, I have been working with stakeholder groups across Texas, and I look forward to passing legislation that will protect the rights of Texans to develop their property,” Buckingham said.

In Austin, the passage of SB 12 would drastically undermine the city’s ongoing efforts to rewrite its entire land use code, known as CodeNext. If the City Council signs off next spring as planned on CodeNext, none of its provisions would take effect on a piece of property until the land changed hands, Planning and Zoning Director Greg Guernsey said.

“Let’s say CodeNext gets approved,” Guernsey said “It is not worth a whole lot if I have to deal with property codes from 10, 20 or 30 years (ago).”

I’ll bet the lawyers who specialize in land use codes will make a killing, though. Bear in mind, while the state would impose this requirement, it’s the cities and counties that will get stuck with the costs of implementing and enforcing it. I don’t even know what to say.

Example three:

A Texas Senate committee approved a bill Saturday that would outlaw local restrictions on using a cellphone while driving.

Senate Bill 15 would pre-empt local ordinances on mobile phone usage, effectively rolling back provisions in more than 40 Texas cities that currently post hands-free ordinances stricter than the statewide texting ban. That measure now heads to the full Senate. It was one of several items the Senate Business and Commerce Committee took up Saturday that target local regulations and ordinances.

That committee also passed a bill that would require women to pay a separate premium for insurance coverage of an abortion that is not considered medically necessary.

Gov. Greg Abbott has argued that stricter local cellphone ordinances make for a confusing “patchwork” of regulations across the state, leaving drivers confused as they navigate between areas with different rules. Opponents of SB 15, including police officers from San Antonio and Austin who testified against the measure on Saturday, argue that the state should not pre-empt city ordinances that make people safer.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, the Senate sponsor of the statewide texting-while-driving ban that goes into effect in September, said SB 15 would be a “huge step back.”

“I’ve never cried as a senator,” said Zaffirini, a senator since 1987. If this passes, “I think I would cry.”

The committee vote on SB 15 was 7-2.

The Buckingham bill was not voted on in committee, with some comments from the author that it could get reworked. Call me crazy, but maybe this is the sort of thing that needs a more deliberate process, if only to see if there is any legitimate purpose for it. If there’s one bit of good news in all this, it’s that the general insider belief is that most of Abbott’s agenda won’t get passed. There’s still plenty of room for damage even if only a few of his items make it through. The House offers the better chance of non-action, so let your representative know what you think.

The first step is admitting you have a problem

Rewire points out an issue that should have been obvious.

Earlier this month, about 70 Texas businesses signed a letter condemning a discriminatory bill now circulating in the state legislature that would largely bar transgender people from using public restrooms or changing facilities that match their gender identity.

“We believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, and we are proud of our companies’ track records on creating diverse workforces and inclusive work environments,” reads the March 1 letter against SB 6, which passed the state senate on March 15 and is currently in the house. “We stand together to oppose legislation that would legalize discrimination against any group that would undermine our ability to ‘Keep Texas Open for Business.’”

Despite their public stance against this anti-trans legislation, however, representatives of some of these same companies—including Dow Chemical, Hewlett Packard, and United Continental—have given hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last two decades to the campaigns of the very lawmakers pushing the bill.

The political action committees of three law firms, one trade association, and eight other companies that signed the letter have given a total of nearly $185,000 to the campaigns of 15 of the 18 Republican state senators who sponsored SB 6. From 1998 through 2016, companies have filled the coffers of these conservative Republicans’ campaigns, helping to seat them at the legislature and make SB 6 possible.

Meanwhile, PACs of six of those companies and an additional law firm that opposes SB 6 combined to donate over $50,000 since 2006 to the recurring campaigns of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of SB 6’s biggest proponents. Some also gave large donations to the state Republican Party and to outside political groups that funneled money into Texas politics, aiding the bill’s sponsors.

[…]

Rewire reached out to 12 companies and the SMART union to ask if they were aware that their donations had helped elect SB 6 sponsors and if their donation policies would change in light of the bill. An American Airlines spokesperson affirmed the company’s dedication to equal rights for its LGBTQ customers and employees, but said it doesn’t comment on specific contributions made by its PAC.

A Dow spokesperson wrote that the company “seeks to work with political leaders at all levels” to aid its competitiveness, and it welcomes “open and respectful dialogue and exchange of views” with politicians it doesn’t agree with to “achieve meaningful results.”

The Texas Association of Business, the main business trade association in the state that represents companies and many local chambers of commerce, did say that SB 6 will affect future donation decisions. Communications Director Robert Wood wrote in an email to Rewire that while these decisions by the PAC’s board are never based on one piece of legislation, “SB 6 will be factored into future endorsements and contributions.” Without giving specifics, Wood said, “Unsolicited, many of our members have shared they will have to make tough business decisions if SB 6 passes.” Earlier, he wrote, “If companies leave the state entirely or focus on making future choices elsewhere, [these] are tough decisions many companies are facing.”

Honestly, I’m a little surprised this article hadn’t been written before, since it’s about as standard an issue in any legislative controversy as there is. It should be noted that the amounts in question are actually pretty small, especially given that Rewire totaled everything up going back to 1998, which will cover the entire political career of just about everyone listed. Jane Nelson and Dan Patrick are over $50K, Craig Estes over $20K, and most of the rest are under $10K. Which may sound like a lot, but 1) this is for multiple cycles for most of them, and 2) these people tend to have campaign treasuries in excess of $1 million. It’s a small part of their resources, and these companies are far from the biggest donors.

All that said, there’s a big principle involved. Most companies would surely have echoed Dow’s rationale if they had commented, and there is something to that. The point I’ve been making all along is that there are plenty of politicians out there who will be at least cordial to them while not acting against their interests on a big issue like this. I’ve criticized the TAB many times for continuing to support legislators who have regularly opposed them on matters like immigration, so kudos to them for recognizing the need to do something different. It’s a simple enough thing to do. I’d suggest that if you work for one of the companies mentioned, you might consider raising the matter to your management. Companies don’t like it when their own employees point out when they violate their stated beliefs and values. There’s more than one way to work within the system to bring about change.

Immigration bills fail

Another thing to celebrate from this session.

As the sun begins to set on the 84th Texas Legislature, promises to enact tough immigration legislation remain unfulfilled. State Sen. Donna Campbell says she’s not giving up just because the last gavel is about to drop.

Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican, tried unsuccessfully to pass Senate Bill 1819, which would have eliminated a 14-year-old policy that allows non-citizens, including some undocumented immigrants, to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities.

“Unfortunately, it takes a [three-fifths] vote to bring a bill to the floor, and I was unable to find those final two to three affirmative votes once the bill passed out of committee,” she said in an email Saturday. “I am disappointed that we were unable to get this bill passed under the current body, but I have two years to change a couple members’ minds and try again next session.”

Republican lawmakers could take a similar conciliatory tone on another contentious issue, Senate Bill 185, by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. That bill sought to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” – the common term for local governments whose peace officers don’t enforce immigration laws.

The proposals seemed likely to pass, at minimum, the upper chamber in the early months of the session. The crush of unauthorized migration last summer in the Rio Grande Valley kept the issues at the forefront, and some GOP senators said during their campaigns that passing immigration legislation was a priority.

But two Republican senators, Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, opposed the measures. Eltife said the issues were about local control; Estes said he feared both could have dire unintended consequences. Their opposition blocked both from going before the full chamber for a vote.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said a coalition opposing the bills formed early, and it held “regardless of a great deal of pressure that was put on some people.”

“We spent time talking to individual members and talking to people outside the Capitol who in turn talked to members, so that we could be sure we weren’t making any assumptions about where someone might be on these bills, simply because of their party,” said Watson, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

See here for some background. I don’t expect this issue to go away despite the huge amount allocate in the budget for “border security” or the reality that immigration patterns have changed greatly in recent years. This will be a “crisis” in need of “immediate action” for as long as it has potency as an election issue. Stace has more.

Pointless “pastor protection” bill passes House

Whatever.

RedEquality

The House tentatively approved Thursday a bill saying that Texas pastors, churches and religious institutions can’t be sued by private parties or penalized by government for spurning gay weddings.

Many clergy, especially Southern Baptist ministers opposed to gay marriage, have testified they very much need the legal shield.

“Maybe pastors won’t be sued. But we need some protection in case they are,” said Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, bill supporter.

The bill’s critics, though, have expressed skepticism that same-sex couples would try to coerce a reluctant religious leader to officiate at their unions. Even if some did, the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1999 already protect pastors, opponents have said.

Rep. Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and out lesbian, said she hopes the U.S. Supreme Court soon will declare a constitutional right to marry.

If it does, though, Israel said she and her partner of 20 years would never ask to be married by a pastor who interprets the Bible as against loving, same-sex unions.

“Rest assured [we] will not be going to them to bless our union,” she said. “We will be going to someone who loves us and respects us for who we are and how we take care of one another.”

[…]

Estes’ bill would confer legal immunity on clergy and religious institutions if they refused to open facilities, provide services and sell goods to same-sex couples because it would violate “a sincerely held religious belief” to do so.

Rep. Scott Sanford, a McKinney Republican who is a Baptist pastor, filed a companion bill that died in last week’s bill-killing maelstrom before a key House deadline. Sanford also sponsored the Senate-passed version.

Following Sanford’s example, Estes agreed to one change. He deleted a phrase saying clergy and religious institutions could refuse to treat a same-sex marriage “as valid for any purpose.” Bill opponents warned those words could shield, say, a religious hospital from challenge if it barred a spouse legally married to someone of the same sex in another state from making medical decisions for a partner.

See here for the background. The vote was 141-2 in favor. If you’re wondering why it was so lopsided, the Trib has the answer.

“I truly believe that there is space for LGBT justice and religious freedom and this, I feel, is the space for that,” said state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, who has called herself the only openly pan-sexual elected official in the nation.

State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said in a speech supporting the bill that she will one day marry her longtime lesbian partner in Texas. Pastors that don’t support their union shouldn’t worry about her trying to get them to conduct the ceremony, she said. SB 2065, Israel argued, would ensure that a clergy member that wants to support the ceremony can.

“This Roman Catholic urges you to vote yes,” Israel said.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Equality Texas withdrew its opposition to the measure and encouraged House Democrats to vote for it.

So there you have it. I don’t know that I’d agree that this bill was worth supporting, but I do agree that it’s likely to not have much effect, something even its most ardent supporters concede. Gotta say, though, when the phrase “sincerely held religious belief” is invoked, the possibility exists for all kinds of unintended consequences to arise. Be careful what you ask for, pastors. Hair Balls has more.

Pointless “pastor protection” bill comes to the House

From the Observer.

RedEquality

Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) said Wednesday he doesn’t plan to introduce an anti-gay marriage amendment to the so-called Pastor Protection Act scheduled for a House vote Thursday.

However, with 12 days remaining in the session, Bell said he continues to look for another means of resurrecting House Bill 4105, which was designed to undermine a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, and died on the House floor last week.

LGBT advocates feared Bell would attempt to add the provisions of HB 4105 to Senate Bill 2065, by Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), which would reaffirm that pastors and churches can’t be forced to participate in same-sex weddings. But Bell said he doesn’t believe such an amendment would be considered germane to SB 2065, aka the Pastor Protection Act, thus threatening the bill’s chances.

“A lot of work’s been done on that bill, and I don’t want to compromise that bill,” Bell told the Observer. “The intent is to assert the sovereignty of the state of Texas. If I can find a place to do that, then I’ll do that. But I’m not going to compromise the very structure and value system that I’m trying to affirm in that process.”

[…]

With other anti-LGBT legislation stalled, social conservatives have made SB 2065 a top priority in recent days. However, Texas Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch acknowledged recently that its passage wouldn’t be a significant victory.

Supporters of SB 2065 have used committee hearings on the bill to give general testimony in opposition to same-sex marriage, which some witnesses compared to bestiality and pedophilia.

“It suggests that really the goal here to increase hostility and animosity toward gay and lesbian couples who want to get married, rather than to protect pastors from having to perform their marriages, because pastors are already protected from doing that if they don’t want to,” [Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network] said.

Nevertheless, if SB 2065 is the only unfavorable measure that passes out of more than 20 anti-LGBT proposals that were introduced, advocates won’t hang their heads.

“It’s certainly encouraging that some of the really bad bills appear to be going nowhere, and that the only bill that’s moving forward does essentially what the law already does,” Quinn said. “If we can get out of the session without any of those other bills passing, it would clearly be a big step forward.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Equality Texas had sent out an email alert about HB4105 being attached to SB2065 earlier in the day. I’m glad to see that turned out to be a false alarm. There are reasons to be concerned about SB2065 as is, and we can’t rest easy on HB4105 until the session is well and truly over, but so far so good. I’ll update this post if anything notable happens during the House debate.

Senate still trying to pass “sanctuary cities” and DREAM Act repeal

Time is running out on these bad bills, but as the man said, it ain’t over till it’s over.

After sitting idle in the Senate for more than a month, a controversial bill to eliminate in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants is back on the upper chamber’s calendar.

But it remains unclear whether the Senate has the votes to bring the measure up for debate.

Senate Bill 1819 by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would do away with what has been standard policy in Texas since 2001: allowing non-citizens, including undocumented students, to pay discounted in-state tuition rates if they have lived in Texas for three or more years.

The proposal was originally placed on the Senate’s intent calendar on April 15 after an hours-long and emotional committee hearing — but it was taken off that calendar next day. During the first 130 days of the session, Senate rules require a bill to stay on the calendar for two days before being brought up for debate.

On Tuesday, the bill was back on the calendar along with another controversial measure, Senate Bill 185 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. That proposal seeks to give local law enforcement expanded immigration enforcement powers.

SB 185 has been on and off the intent calendar several times since passing out of committee on April 13, a sign that the measure didn’t have support from 19 senators — the threshold needed to bring it up for a debate. The upper chamber’s 11 Democrats have stood united in their opposition to both measures, and at least two Republicans are firm against it.

See here for the background. The two Republican Senators that are helping hold these bills back are Sens. Kevin Eltife, who is not a surprise, and Craig Estes, who is. Without their resistance, these bills would have already passed the Senate thanks to the two thirds rule change. We appreciate the support, fellas. Hold fast, there’s not much farther to go. Stace, Texas Leftist, and the Chron’s Bobby Cervantes have more.

Here comes that anti-gay marriage bill

Ready or not.

RedEquality

“Texas is pioneering a legislative effort to subvert a potential Supreme Court ruling on marriage and lock in discrimination against gay and transgender people and their families,” Kathy Miller, president of the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network, told reporters in a conference call Monday morning.

“If successful, the strategy could spread to other states, especially in the South,” she said. “But it definitely risks a major backlash from the business community and from Texas voters … that would damage the brand of Texas for a long time to come.”

Miller was alluding to controversies that flared in Indiana and Arkansas a couple of months ago after lawmakers in both states passed religious-refusal bills inspired by a spate of federal court victories by gays and lesbians seeking to overturn state bans of same-sex marriage.

The Texas bills are drawing national attention. Several reporters from national news media organizations participated in Monday’s press call.

Organizers hope to generate a groundswell of protests by Texans, especially to center-right members of the Texas House’s GOP leadership. Miller said bill opponents are less optimistic about their chances of stopping the bills in the Texas Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has shown his eagerness to pass similar legislation by successfully persuading senators to suspend Senate rules recently to allow late filing of one such bill, she said.

[…]

Chuck Smith, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Texas, called it “a mean spirited piece of legislation.”

Smith said it would ignore Texans’ growing acceptance of gay marriage and inflict unnecessary pain.

“It will be yet another state-sanctioned slap in the face to lesbian and gay couples who simply want to make a lifetime commitment to the person that they love,” he said.

The bill could generate costly lawsuits if the Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ 2005 gay marriage ban, said Smith and Rebecca Robertson, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas’ legal and policy director.

Robertson said county clerks would be caught between conflicting orders from judges, much like their counterparts in Alabama. In Alabama, a federal district court judge struck down that state’s same-sex marriage ban, but the state’s highest-ranking judge ordered officials not to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

“We’d absolutely be on the course that Alabama is on, where you just have chaos for the time being, until it’s sorted out,” she said.

See here for the background. There’s no chance of voting this bill down, so delays and the rulebook are the Democrats’ best friends. I hope someone has a point of order or three in his or her back pocket to try to send this mess back to committee.

The Observer notes the numbers:

In addition to Bell, HB 4105 is co-authored by 88 other House Republicans. Only nine Republicans hadn’t signed on as co-authors as of Monday morning: Rodney Anderson (Grand Prairie), Sarah Davis (Houston), Craig Goldman (Fort Worth), Todd Hunter (Corpus Christi), Linda Koop (Dallas), Morgan Meyer (Dallas), John Smithee (Amarillo), Speaker Joe Straus (San Antonio) and Jason Villalba (Dallas).

None of the chamber’s 52 Democrats were listed as co-authors.

Like I said, the Republicans are seriously out of touch with the general public on this. I’d be willing to bet that even a sample of Republican primary voters would be more than ten percent favorable to same sex marriage. But as always, until someone loses an election over it, nothing will change. As for the Dems, support of same sex marriage in our world is pretty high, but it’s not unanimous. Not having a single Democratic coauthor on this bill is therefore a nice accomplishment. I hope that translates to no votes in favor of it as well, but we’ll see. There are still a couple of potential holdouts to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, in other same sex marriage news:

The Senate on Monday tentatively approved a bill saying that clergy, churches, religious organizations and their employees don’t have to be involved in gay weddings if they don’t want to be.

The bill advanced by a vote of 21-10, despite warnings from some Democrats that it’s vague and inadvertently might provide legal cover for biased actions by religious health-care institutions or clergy who hold elective offices such as justice of the peace.

Bill author Sen. Craig Estes, though, insisted the bill just would apply to wedding ceremonies and related events.

“As far as I’m concerned, this bill does not deal with the secular in any form,” said Estes, R-Wichita Falls.

“It is not my intention to discriminate against anyone with this bill,” he said. “My intention is to protect pastors’, ministers’ and clergy’s First Amendment rights.”

See here and here for the background. You know how I feel about this, so let me quote Sen. Rodney Ellis’ statement on SB2065, since he pretty much nails it:

“This bill is a solution in search of a problem,” said Senator Ellis. “In the more than 30 states where same-sex couples can legally marry, no clergy or house of worship has ever been compelled to perform a same-sex wedding. The fact is that there are many faith traditions that embrace gay and lesbian couples and joyfully celebrate these marriages. Nobody is reliant on forcing a reluctant pastor in order to get married.”

That has always been true in any context, and it will continue to be true for as long as we have the Constitution. The Trib has more.

I repeat, no one will be forced to perform a same sex wedding

This really is a huge waste of time.

RedEquality

For some gay rights advocates, a bill in the Texas Legislature that would allow clergy to refuse to marry same-sex couples would be acceptable if it just included four more words.

As the Senate State Affairs Committee heard testimony Monday morning on Senate Bill 2065 by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, Chuck Smith, the executive director of Equality Texas, asked for the legislation to include language making it clear that the bill only applies to marriage ceremonies. Smith wanted to ensure that the legislation would not prohibit the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses by officials in a secular context.

But Estes told committee that he did not intend to accept that amendment after pastors testified against the bill for several hours.

Smith requested that language in the bill saying that “a clergy or minister may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services” be changed to “a clergy or minister acting in that capacity may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services.”

“We are fully supportive of religious liberties,” Smith told the committee in the morning.

[…]

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the committee’s chairwoman, said she hoped a consensus would be reached.

The legislation faced heat from Democrats at Monday’s committee hearing.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, criticized the bill because it did not define “solemnize” or “religious organization.” Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, asked if clergy could use the legislation to refuse to marry interracial couples.

“If it’s a discriminatory act, then I don’t think they should be able to hide behind the First Amendment or hide behind their faith,” Ellis said.

See here for the background. Honestly, given some of the things the Senate could be debating, I don’t mind them wasting a few hours on this, but I just don’t see what this bill will accomplish that the First Amendment doesn’t already provide. There was some testimony in favor of the bill from the crowd that thinks same sex marriage is a monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot to sap and impurify all of their precious bodily fluids, but despite the support of the Estes bill by liberal groups if the language gets tweaked and of the companion House bill that has already been modified, there was some opposition from both sides as well.

But socially conservative lawyers for the Plano-based Liberty Institute and Austin-based Texas Values Action opposed Huffman’s push to include the bill opponents’ language. They and an aide to Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke of the issue raised by Scalia, about how ministers officiating at a wedding act in dual capacities. They represent a church but also use state power to seal a marriage. That could lead to legal complexities, they warned.

Even if Estes accepted the change, which appeared unlikely, at least one ecumenical group said it would remain opposed to his bill.

Texas Impact, a progressive coalition of Christian churches and Jewish entities, said it could inspire lawsuits by ministers and employees in certain Protestant denominations with a hierarchical structure over their disagreements with the denomination’s church laws.

“We do not want ministers sued, we do not want churches sued,” said Joshua Houston, Texas Impact’s general counsel. “But we also do not want ministers able to sue denominations when their sincerely held religious beliefs are in conflict. Attorneys representing the Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist churches tell us that the way the bill is written will increase those lawsuits.”

Clearly, the simplest thing to do is to leave well enough alone. In the end the bill was voted out of committee without the modification that Equality texas and the ACLU were asking for, because we always have to do things the hard way. Unfair Park has more.

No one is going to be forced to perform a same sex wedding

Would someone please reassure Dan Patrick of this before he wets himself?

RedEquality

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, said he sponsored Senate Bill 2065 at the urging of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The Senate suspended its rules to allow the bill to be introduced on Tuesday, weeks past the session’s filing deadlines.

The legislation would allow a religious organization or affiliated individual, such as a member of the clergy or officiant, to refuse to preside over any marriage “if the action would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief.” It also would allow them to refuse to provide “services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges” toward the “solemnization, formation, or celebration” of any such marriage.

“I don’t think it would be advisable to compel men or women of the cloth to do marriages that violated their closely held religious beliefs,” said Estes. “There’s a companion bill in the House, and we filed the Senate bill at the request of the lieutenant governor.”

Chuck Smith, head of the gay rights group Equality Texas, said the bill is more wide-reaching than it may appear on first reading. Because it is not restricted to officiants acting in their official capacities, Smith said, the bill would allow anyone who is ordained to discriminate against anyone at any time.

The bill is also needless, Smith added, if its purpose is to allow officiants to refuse to marry certain couples since that right already exists.

“We respect the religious freedom of clergy to determine who to marry,” said Smith. “That right is already constitutionally protected. So, in some respects, that statute is unnecessary.”

My maternal grandmother was widowed at a young age, in the early 1960s. A decade or so later, she remarried. Her new husband, my step-grandfather, had been divorced, and since his first marriage had not been annulled, they could not be married in the Catholic Church, since the Church did not recognize divorce. They had a civil marriage, and though she continued to be a regular churchgoer, she never again received Communion, since she was in a state of sin for her non-church wedding.

I bring this up to make the obvious point (as Justice Kagan did for her deliberately-being-obtuse colleague, Justice Scalia) that it has always been the case that churches and clergy have always been able to refuse to officiate at a wedding for couples that do not meet the requirements of their faith. That remains true today – divorce is still not recognized by the Catholic Church, and divorced people cannot be married in the Church without going through Church-mandated hoops, despite the fact that divorce has been legal in America for decades, if not centuries. We also now have the experience of thousands of same-sex weddings that have been performed in the country, going back ten years in the case of Massachusetts. I for one am not aware of any priest, minister, rabbi, imam, or whatever being forced to officiate at one against his or her will. Given all the publicity that every rogue baker and florist has received in the 37 states where same sex marriage is allowed, I feel confident we’d have heard of such a person if one existed.

So it should be clear that this bill is at best completely superfluous, and at worst an unconstitutional attempt to extend this right that religions and their clergy have beyond what is accepted today. So why do this – in particular, why go out of the way to do this when so much other legislation is struggling for time? A matter of values, I suppose, and a good reminder that not all values are virtuous. I just hope the state doesn’t wind up wasting too much of our tax dollars fighting unsuccessfully to salvage this in court down the line.

UPDATE: Debate on this bill has been delayed, most likely until Monday.

Fracking ban on the ballot in Denton

This has the potential to be even bigger than the HERO repeal referendum.

Voters will decide whether this North Texas college town will become the state’s first city to ban hydraulic fracturing.

After a public hearing Tuesday night that stretched into Wednesday morning, the Denton City Council rejected a proposal to ban the method of oil and gas extraction inside the city, which sits on the edge of the gas-rich Barnett Shale. The 5-2 vote kicked the question to the city’s November ballot, the next step in a high-profile property rights clash that will likely be resolved outside of Denton.

“It’s a high-stakes game,” said mayor Chris Watts, who said he voted against the proposal so that citizens would have a say. “This issue is going to be decided in one of two places: the statehouse or the courthouse.”

Fracking opponents forced the council’s vote after gathering nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban. The proposal would not prohibit drilling outright; it would apply only to fracking, which involves blasting apart rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water.

Denton, population 121,000 and pockmarked with more than 270 natural gas wells, is one of several Texas cities wrangling with questions about where to allow drilling and how strictly to regulate it.

As drilling increasingly moves into urban areas, tension is growing between property rights above ground and sub-surface mineral rights. States, along with the federal government, regulate most aspects of drilling, including well integrity, pipeline safety, and air and water impact. Cities, however, have sought to regulate noise and to control the location of wells or related sites like compressor stations.

No Texas city has tried to ban fracking, and the prospect of a ban in Texas prompted state officials and energy industry representatives Tuesday to join an overflow crowd at city hall.

“The whole world is watching Denton, Texas,” said Chris Faulkner, CEO of Dallas-based Breitling Energy, who urged the council to reject the ban.

I think that’s fair to say. It’s also highly likely that there will be a ton out outside interest and money in this referendum, and if it passes you can be sure there will be litigation.

A Chron story from Tuesday morning set the scene.

“I think everyone all along assumed this was going to go to a citywide vote, given the uncharted waters we find ourselves in,” Councilman Kevin Roden said in an interview. “My guess is there’s comfort in letting it go to an entire city vote as opposed to seven of us trying to decide this.”

Denton sits over the Barnett Shale, one of the nation’s largest natural gas fields.

[…]

Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, sent a 4-page letter to the mayor and council members blasting the ban proposal as “extremely misguided.”

“Increased production of natural gas, natural gas liquids and crude oil has greatly enhanced the Texas economy,” Smitherman wrote. “Over 400,000 Texans work in the oil and gas industry and the average wage per employee is a staggering $128,000.”

Smitherman [didn’t] attend Tuesday’s public hearing because of a prior commitment, but asked that his written comments be considered.

Although Roden, the councilman, declined to state his position on the ban, he was unimpressed with Smitherman’s letter.

“We’ve been struggling with how to make natural gas drilling compatible in residential areas and largely because of the regulatory environment we find ourselves in, the state is pulling the shots and we’re not able to regulate from a local perspective,” he said.

“For him to write us a letter in the 11th hour with no policy suggestions on how to get better, only advocating for an industry he’s supposed to be regulating, I found it pretty out of touch.”

Here’s Smitherman’s letter. Perhaps if the RRC had any credibility as a watchdog, this sort of advocacy would not have arisen. State Rep. Myra Crownover, who represents Denton, is quoted in the Trib story saying that she will work with Sen. Craig Estes “to find a finely crafted fix for these issues”, but again, I don’t know how much credibility that carries. We all know whose interests come first around here. The Observer, Unfair Park, and Texas Sharon, one of the leaders of the petition effort, have more.

What does Tesla Motors have in common with microbreweries?

Both are forbidden by archaic laws from selling their wares direct to the public.

Electric car maker Elon Musk wants to bet big on Texas – but he’s having trouble getting his chips on the table.

Musk, a South African-born entrepreneur and the CEO, chairman and co-founder of Tesla Motors, wants to sell Tesla’s electric cars directly to Texas consumers. But to do so, the company must win an exemption from state antitrust laws that regulate the relationship between car dealers and manufacturers.

State laws prevent car manufacturers from selling directly to Texas consumers and require that manufacturers operate through a tightly regulated franchise system. Texas’ protections for car dealers are among the strongest in the country. The Texas Automobile Dealers Association says the rules protect consumers, and ensure the livelihood of Texas auto dealerships. Tesla and its supporters say the laws are an antiquated legacy, and that the ability to sell directly to customers is crucial to the company’s livelihood.

“Everyone told us when we were getting into this that we’d get our ass kicked,” Musk told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday. “Well, I guess there’s a good chance that we will get our ass kicked. But we’ll try.”

Two bills — Senate Bill 1659, by state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, and House Bill 3351, by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin — would carve out narrowly tailored exemptions from state franchise law for Tesla. Under the measures, American manufacturers of electric cars that have never previously had franchised dealerships could sell cars directly to customers.

But the bills’ critics, including some legislators, ask why Tesla can’t conduct business like other, established car companies.

“There’s nothing prohibiting this company, in the future, from finding a dealership to represent them,” said state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. He argued that weakening the dealer model would hurt car owners.

“I would be wary, as a consumer, of buying a car from a manufacturer that may or may not be here in six months.”

I’m just curious – has anyone ever explained to Dan Patrick how capitalism works? What he said is true of any product or service on the market. Last I checked, auto dealerships can go belly-up, too.

Currently, Tesla has “galleries” in Austin and Houston. Employees there are legally prohibited from discussing the price or any logistical aspect of acquiring the car. Consumers who want to purchase the vehicle have to order the car from Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto.

The cars are then delivered in a truck with no company markings, per Texas law. Once delivered, Musk said, the customers even have to unwrap their new automobiles themselves, because under the law no representatives of Tesla’s in the state are allowed to do, say or touch anything related to selling or delivering cars.

To put it bluntly, this is nuts. Laws like these, in the automotive industry and the beer-making industry, do nothing for consumers, but do ensure a tidy piece of the action for a privileged set of middlemen. I can’t imagine too many people will want to buy a car direct from a manufacturer – most of us have at best a vague idea of what we want in a car, which is why we go to dealerships and take test drives and so on – but I can’t think of any reason why someone who does know what she wants should be prevented from doing business directly with the source. If Dan Patrick or anyone else is truly concerned about the risk such customers may be exposing themselves to, they can insist on including some strong consumer protections in the law that Tesla is seeking. Ideally, the exception Tesla is seeking to carve out really ought to be a general one for all automakers, but the bills are narrowly tailored to just them because everyone is already freaking out about it. The Lege can be a very weird place sometimes. As with the microbrewers, it will take Tesla more than one session to get enough buy-in on this to get a bill passed. I hope they’re in business long enough to see it happen, if only so Dan Patrick doesn’t get to say “I told you so”. See also this Trib interview with Elon Musk, and Texas Politics has more.

Term limits measure approved by the Senate

Coming to your ballot this fall, barring anything strange.

Still no limits on corndogs

State­wide elected officials would be limited to two consecutive terms under a proposed constitutional amendment approved 27-4 by the Texas Senate on Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Perry, Texas’ longest serving governor, and other current officeholders would be “grandfathered” and allowed to seek two more terms if the limits were enacted.

Senate Joint Resolution 13 by Sen. Kevin Eltife would require Texas House approval by a two-thirds vote before being put on a statewide ballot. It would apply only to the state’s executive branch.

Eltife, R-Tyler, said his proposal does not stem from concern about any current officeholder, including Perry, but is meant as a way to bring a fresh perspective to government.

“No way, shape or form it has anything to do with Rick Perry,” Eltife insisted. “I just think government is better served with term limits.”

[…]

[Rice University political science professor Mark] Jones said he expects the bill to have a “pretty good chance” in the House.

“The only way that it probably doesn’t survive is if the House leadership decides to bottle it up in committee and not allow it to make it to the floor,” Jones said, adding that he is not aware of any such intentions by House leaders.

“Once it gets to the ballot, it’s close to a virtual certainty that it will be approved,” Jones said. “The ‘yes’ campaign is an easy campaign. They just have to campaign against politicians and claim term limits prevent entrenched career politicians.”

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, spoke against the measure, declaring it improper to single out only the executive branch.

“We already have term limits. It’s called the ballot box,” Estes said. With SJR 13, “We’re basically saying to the people of Texas that they’re not responsible or well-informed enough to make the best decisions for themselves.”

As you know, I am not a fan of term limits, so I agree with Sen. Estes on this. I also agree with Mark Jones that this is pretty much a slam dunk. I’ll vote against it, just as I voted against the Houston term limits ordinance back in the 90s, but I expect the referendum to pass easily, with more than 70% of the vote. It’s a bad idea, but it could be worse. At least it’s limited to statewide executive offices and does not include legislators themselves, who have not needed term limits to have plenty of turnover this past decade. Stace, who’s with me and with whom I agree that term limits for appointed officials (which is included in Sen. Eltife’s joint resolution) is a good idea, BOR, Texas Redistricting, and Juanita have more.

The numbers in the “deal”

As I start to type this I have no idea if the “deal” that was announced earlier today will be in effect or on the trash heap. I think it’s instructive to look at the numbers in the proposed maps anyway, since they give a good idea of how much the state was willing to concede. Let’s start with Congress. From a strictly Democratic perspective, here’s how I see it:

Dist Incumbent McCain Obama Wainwright Houston =================================================== 09 A. Green 23.42 76.12 22.06 76.33 15 Hinojosa 41.84 57.30 37.30 60.00 16 Reyes 34.59 64.39 30.15 66.55 18 Jackson Lee 22.89 76.57 21.61 76.71 20 Gonzalez+ 40.64 58.23 37.70 58.60 23 Canseco* 49.27 49.88 44.99 51.68 28 Cuellar 40.97 58.28 35.27 61.28 29 G. Green 37.04 62.22 30.34 67.66 30 Johnson 21.07 78.33 19.74 78.58 33 Open 30.64 68.57 27.18 70.54 34 Open 39.06 60.00 32.84 63.62 35 Open 35.47 63.18 32.55 63.10 06 Barton* 57.03 42.19 53.58 43.75 10 McCaul* 56.17 42.59 53.10 43.23 14 Paul*+ 57.03 42.12 49.70 47.52 25 Doggett 56.05 42.73 52.14 43.54 27 Farenthold* 58.95 40.12 50.85 45.75 31 Carter* 55.80 42.54 53.26 42.40 32 Sessions* 55.05 43.83 53.36 43.82

* = Republican incumbent
+ = Not running for re-election

For comparison sake, here’s my analysis of the original interim map and of the Lege-drawn map. What was originally 26-10 in favor of the GOP, then briefly became 23-13, is now either likely somewhere between 25-11 and 23-13, depending on if Rep. Quico Canseco can hold on and if Nick Lampson can win CD14. Note that this is more or less the screw-Doggett map with new Dem districts in the D/FW area and in South Texas, which if it stands might put the kibosh on Joaquin Castro’s assignment for the DCCC and would leave Roger Williams in the cold while bringing Michael Williams back into the game. Smokey Joe Barton gets a little help, Blake Farenthold no longer has to worry about a Harris County challenger, and the heir apparent to Charlie Gonzalez is up in the air.

And here’s the State House:

Dist Incumbent McCain Obama Wainwright Houston =================================================== 22 Deshotel 34.77 64.73 30.66 67.92 23 Eiland 51.35 47.77 42.99 54.22 27 Reynolds 29.88 69.63 28.96 69.55 30 Morrison*+ 50.26 48.99 42.24 54.74 31 Guillen 22.12 77.42 15.75 81.00 34 Scott* 46.93 52.17 38.90 57.76 35 Aliseda*+ 35.74 63.30 31.87 64.99 36 Munoz 26.39 72.85 23.01 75.08 37 Oliveira 31.33 67.52 25.82 69.67 38 Lucio 34.01 64.67 28.74 67.02 39 M.Martinez 26.86 72.35 23.17 74.63 40 Pena*+ 24.43 74.81 20.13 77.42 41 Gonzales 42.16 57.05 37.83 59.68 42 Raymond 28.91 70.56 20.00 76.31 43 Lozano 48.82 50.51 40.00 56.79 46 Dukes 21.51 77.04 20.50 74.99 48 Howard 37.53 60.77 37.52 56.86 49 Naishtat 24.26 73.67 24.04 69.21 50 Strama 38.01 60.27 36.95 57.51 51 E.Rodriguez 17.84 80.40 16.47 77.69 54 Aycock* 51.20 47.93 47.97 49.01 74 Gallego+ 41.15 57.91 34.93 61.32 75 Q'tanilla+ 25.14 74.13 21.64 75.42 76 N.Gonzalez 23.86 75.15 19.18 78.00 77 Marquez 34.56 64.25 30.18 66.08 78 Margo* 43.64 55.31 39.57 56.84 79 Pickett 34.62 64.52 29.83 67.13 80 T.King 48.65 50.76 41.30 55.87 90 Burnam 29.89 69.40 25.82 72.00 95 Veasey+ 23.57 75.90 22.30 76.09 100 E.Johnson 22.13 77.18 20.29 77.50 101 Open 37.82 61.59 35.63 62.19 103 Anchia 31.44 67.47 28.78 68.04 104 Alonzo 30.25 68.76 25.88 71.39 109 Giddings 19.84 79.62 18.78 79.79 110 M-Caraway+ 12.02 87.55 10.55 88.19 111 Y.Davis 24.18 75.24 22.81 75.60 116 M-Fischer 38.80 59.89 36.27 59.67 117 Garza* 47.71 51.33 44.69 51.76 118 Farias 42.57 56.36 37.44 58.81 119 Gutierrez 40.30 58.59 35.77 60.38 120 McClendon 36.12 62.95 34.14 62.49 123 Villarreal 39.13 59.58 36.30 59.35 124 Menendez 39.17 59.79 36.40 60.05 125 Castro+ 40.69 58.14 37.58 58.56 131 Allen 17.92 81.66 16.59 81.92 136 Vo 34.89 64.47 32.15 65.73 137 Open 43.64 55.47 42.22 55.26 139 Turner 23.99 75.55 22.65 75.85 140 Walle 33.16 66.24 27.42 71.02 141 Thompson 14.35 85.29 13.25 85.61 142 Dutton 21.32 78.28 19.31 79.43 143 Luna 35.22 64.14 27.89 70.22 144 Legler* 51.04 47.95 43.02 54.53 145 Alvarado 41.99 57.13 35.76 61.73 146 Miles 21.32 78.15 20.74 77.63 147 Coleman 18.94 80.34 18.16 79.68 148 Farrar 41.43 57.49 37.68 59.18 12 Open 59.77 39.38 50.77 46.67 17 K'schmidt 58.23 40.31 49.95 45.43 52 L.Gonzales* 51.93 46.18 50.33 45.01 85 Open 58.68 40.68 52.81 45.22 102 Carter* 52.18 46.64 50.17 46.75 105 H-Brown* 52.69 46.14 48.72 48.18 107 Sheets* 52.25 46.71 48.72 48.46 113 Driver*+ 53.00 46.05 49.53 47.87 114 Hartnett*+ 52.36 46.57 51.71 45.66 134 S.Davis* 54.39 44.59 56.95 40.36 149 Open 51.81 45.92 51.20 42.93

* = Republican incumbent
+ = Not running for re-election, at least as of last report

Here’s my analysis of the interim map, in which I didn’t specify a likely number of Dem seats but estimated it to be about 60, assuming nothing horrible happened, and here’s my series of posts analyzing the Lege-drawn map: non-urban 1; non-urban 2; Travis, Bexar, El Paso; Metroplex; and Harris County. In this map, Harris County remains with 24 seats, with Hubert Vo’s district being drawn as HD136, so the so-far four-way primary in HD137 remains on. Sarah Davis and Ken Legler get some help, though the latter remains an underdog as I see it. Jimmie Don Aycock in HD54 also gets some help, while Geanie Morrison and Aaron Pena likely stay retired. As Greg noted, the more compact HD26 is gone, replaced by the snowflake-like red-hued earlier version. By my count, this map probably delivers 55 to 60 Dem seats, about what the original interim map was likely to provide; the Lege-drawn map was probably good for 55 at most. Again, while this does represent an improvement, it’s still a long way back to parity for Dems, meaning that even in conceding all this ground, the Republicans would still come out well-placed, at least to begin with.

As for the State Senate map, there’s not much to say. SD10 remains a lean-R district, SD09 is slightly redder, and three other districts were tweaked as well. The main news here is the request by State Sen. Craig Estes, whose SD30 was one of those tweaked districts, to intervene. Sen. Wendy Davis, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, did not sign on to the deal.

So looking at it strictly politically, Dems would do a little better than they were slated to do under the original legislatively-drawn maps, though not quite as well as they would have under the original court-drawn ones. These maps do fix some of the egregious problems and increase Latino opportunities a little, but potentially at the cost of Lloyd Doggett, and without addressing the question of coalition districts. That’s a big deal, and it’s likely the reason why the rest of the plaintiffs refused to sign off on Abbott’s proposal, and why the ultimate resolution of the litigation has the potential to produce maps more like the original interim ones, at least if the plaintiffs prevail. Michael Li, the man behind the great Texas Redistricting blog, wrote a sharp op-ed last week that laid the reasoning out. He focused on the claims for Davis’ SD10, for which the trial on her claims begins tomorrow, as the crux of the issue:

As urban Texas becomes more diverse — and compartmentalized neighborhoods that are the exclusive preserve of one ethnic group disappear — more and more districts like Davis’ will emerge naturally. The competitive state House seats that have arisen in recent years in places like Irving and Grand Prairie are a product of the same phenomena.

That may be why Texas Republicans have fought so hard to take apart Senate District 10 and shove its minority population into far-flung districts where forming winning coalitions is much harder if not impossible.

The crux of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s court argument has been that the only districts protected under the Voting Rights Act are districts where, unlike Senate District 10, a single minority group, by itself, controls outcomes in elections. In other words, in his view, Hispanic and African-American voters only get protected by the Voting Rights Act if they live in neatly defined ethnic barrios of the type that are becoming more and more rare in a multi-ethnic Texas.

Abbott’s argument is a one-two power grab. On the one hand, the state argues it can’t draw more African-American or Hispanic seats because the populations are too spread out across the region. Then it argues that it can fracture the coalitions that minority groups manage to forge because “coalitions” aren’t protected by voting rights laws.

Accept his argument, and Texas would be free to do what it did to Senate District 10 when it put a strip of the district where the population is more than 78 percent African-American and Latino into an Anglo-dominated district stretching past Waco.

As Li notes, the DC panel rejected the state’s claims that coalition districts were not protected, though that doesn’t mean these particular coalition districts will get redress. This is why the majority of the plaintiffs were not interested in Abbott’s “deal”: It didn’t address their issues, and they have a reasonable hope that the DC court will. If that means the primary can’t be held in April, well, they weren’t the ones that asked for a stay from SCOTUS. Unless something happens to change this calculus, I think we’re back to waiting for the DC court to rule.

UPDATE: I should note that I’m only paying attention to the 2008 numbers in these maps because any interim maps are only going to be in effect for this year. We are certain to have a new set of maps for 2014, after all of the current litigation has concluded in the federal courts, and may well have yet another set for 2016 depending on when SCOTUS does its thing. As such, I consider looking at the 2010 numbers for these maps to be even more of an academic exercise than looking at the 2008 numbers is.

Compromise on microbrew bills

As Brewed and Never Battered noted, HB660 and HB602 were scheduled for a public hearing in committee today. I’m delighted to say that it looks like there was progress achieved on them.

Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, laid out HB660 before the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee today. The measure, in its original form, would’ve allowed brewpubs — restaurants that brew their own beer — to distribute directly to other bars, restaurants and stores. But after a compromise with the Beer Alliance of Texas, the bill would only allow brewpups to sell their bottled wares via a beer distributor.

Villarreal told the committee that brewpubs are already manufacturing beer, and that Texas’ regulatory system is stunting their growth. Brewpubs in other states are allowed to sell to distributors, meaning Texas is losing out on what could be a growing business, Villarreal said.

“If it is putting our playing field at a built-in disadvantage to our brewpubs, versus out-of-state brewpubs, then it needs to change,” said Villarreal.

But opponents of the bill, including the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, say allowing brewpubs to sell to distributors would break down the three-tiered system that regulates the production, distribution and retail sales of beer separately — and which has been around since Prohibition. The system is meant to make it easier to regulate and tax beer sales and keep any one company from gaining a monopoly.

They suggest a round-about alternative: HB602, which would allow breweries to charge admission for tours and include up to two six-packs of beers to give to tourists at the end of the tour. Keith Strama, who represents the Beer Distributors, told the committee if HB602 passes, brewpubs could change their licenses to become manufactures of beer, so that they could sell to distributors, sell during tours, and open a restaurant on the premises.

Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, told the committee that he is a staunch supporter of the three-tier system, but that after working with Villarreal and the brewpub owners, a compromise was reached. Originally, the bill would have allowed brewpubs to sell a limited amount of their product directly to stores and other restaurants and bars, bypassing the distributors. The amended bill makes the distributors the middle man.

Scott Metzger, a brewpub owner and executive director of Texas Beer Freedom, said he’s pleased with the compromise. Being able to sell his beer to a distributor will help him grow his business, Metzger told the committee, but would also help grow the state’s economy and its tax revenue. Metzger, who is also an economics professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told the committee the bill has the potential to create $680 million a year in economic activity, 6800 new jobs at brewpubs and $57 million in new tax revenue per year.

Personally, I’d prefer to see the three-tier system thrown onto the ash heap of history, but if Scott Metzger is happy with this compromise, then so am I. If what they say about HB602 is true and it gets passed, it’ll be a huge step forward. I’m genuinely optimistic about their chances now. Kudos to Metzger, Rep. Villarreal, Rep. Jessica Farrar (the author of HB602), and everyone else involved in brokering this deal. Now let’s get this bill passed so we can all enjoy the benefits of it.

Elsewhere in alcohol-related news, two other bills moved along, though neither are bills I’d been following.

The first will require liquor stores to begin reporting the final sales destination of booze they sell — and could boost state revenues as much as $25.8 million — was approved this morning by the Texas Senate.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, the author, said that under current law, the stores do not have to report the final destination of liquor sales like they do for beer, wine and malt liquor.

“This changes the reports filed with the Comptroller, and is expected to increase tax revenue to the state,” Eltife said, noting that the improved tracking of sales is expected to improve auditing and tax collection.

The second bill, by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, will increase the limit for Texas winery off-premise tasting room sales from 35,000 gallons to 50,000 gallons. More wine sold will mean more revenues for the state, officials said.

Estes said that the increase is expected to allow the wine industry to continue growing at its current rate. Between 2007 and 2009, the economic impact of the Texas wine industry grew from $1.35 billion to $1.7 billion annually.

The bills in question are SB576 and SB411. With the news about HB602, I’d say it’s been a good day for Texas beer and wine lovers.

The last bill of alcohol-related interest is SB595, which is a bill to allow Sunday liquor sales, and on which there has been no further action. There’s still time in the session for it, but as Yogi Berra once said, it gets late early out there. I’m not nearly as optimistic about this bill’s chances.

Why it really is about suppressing the vote

Once the voter ID debate shifts over to the House, there will be several bills there for them to consider as companions to SB362. One such bill is HB1414 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, which is as far as I can tell essentially identical to the Fraser/Estes bill. Bohac has been filing such legislation for several sessions, so this is old hat to him. Of perhaps more interest is another Elections bill Bohac has in the hopper, HB488, which is about eligibility to act as a deputy vote registrar. The key bit from the text:

To be eligible for appointment as a volunteer deputy registrar, a person must be eligible to register to vote in the county served by the registrar [18 years of age or older].

So where today one need only be of legal voting age to register others to vote, Bohac would limit you to registering people in your own county; this would also eliminate any non-citizens from acting as deputy registrars. Want to organize a registration drive? No more importing talent for it. Make do with what you’ve got.

Now, while the case for voter ID legislation falls apart under the slightest scrutiny, the rationale for it is at least understandable. The only rationale I can see for this is to make it harder to register voters. How does that serve the public interest? If you say that ensuring all registrars are citizens is worthwhile, then this bill should simply change “18 years of age or older” to be “eligible to register to vote”. It’s the restriction on registering voters outside of the county in which you are registered that is unnecessary and frankly offensive. Again, the only reason I can see for this is to make it harder to register voters, which in turn will make it harder for people to get registered to vote. That’s the mentality that people like Dwayne Bohac have, and that’s one of the reasons why the push for voter ID is about voter suppression. They want to make it harder, and in doing so make it so that fewer people vote. And last year, in what was possibly the most exciting Presidential race ever, millions of people were prevented from voting thanks to tactics like this. That’s what it’s all about.

Voter ID already moving in the Senate

I hope you’ve all enjoyed the relative quiet in the Lege these past few weeks, because it will be coming to an end soon.

The controversial Voter ID bill that triggered a nasty Senate fight last month over a rules change today was referred directly to the full Senate for a vote, setting the stage for new unpleasantness.

Now that it has been referred, Senate Bill 362 could be brought up for consideration as soon as next week, several senators said.

[…]

[Tuesday’s] referral came without fanfare, one of more than 50 bills that were assigned today to various committees. While mostly symbolic, it could promises to put outnumbered Democrats who oppose it on alert against the Upper Chamber’s Republican majority.

Normally, bills are referred to Senate committees for review and approval before they come to the full Senate for debate and a vote. This bill was referred directly to the Committee of the Whole, the full Senate.

The controversial measure by Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, would require Texas voters to verify their identity before they could cast a ballot.

No immediate word on when the measure will be brought up for Senate debate.

I suppose this is to be expected, given that voter ID is the single most important issue facing Texas today. I realize that the Senate Republicans and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have done everything they can to stack the deck in their favor on this, but I trust that the Senate Dems still have plenty of fight in them and will take whatever action they think is needed, given that their colleagues see them as little more than nuisances that need to be quelled. We know that the House Dems will do their part. See this video of State Rep. Rafael Anchia, who is on the Elections committee, for the evidence. Todd Hill kindly provided a transcription of the relevant bit:

When I looked at the [committee] assignments on the Elections committee, the speaker didn’t really follow through on bi-partisanship in that committee. He didn’t even put a veneer of bi-partisanship. Most of the committee’s you have a Democratic Chair with a Republican majority-he didn’t do that here.

He put a Republican Chair in place and a Republican majority-including people who have voted for the worst kind of voter disenfranchisement Bill in the past.

So that’s a place of concern. If you’ve got a grandparent at home who might be a Korean War veteran, and 85 years old without a driver’s license they are going to be required to bring their voter registration card and their driver’s license as well. I think that’s going to disenfranchise a lot of people.

So if they want to move a partisan disenfranchisement Bill then they’re going to have a fight on their hands.

We get can stuff done this session, or we can blow it up over voter ID. That’s the choice the Republican leadership has to make.