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Dawnna Dukes

Runoff races, part 2: Legislative

There’s one Democratic primary runoff for SBOE, one for Senate, and seven for the House. Here’s a brief look at them.

SBOE12

Suzanne Smith
Laura Malone-Miller

Smith led with 48.12% in March to Malone-Miller’s 26.31%. Smith has the DMN endorsement, while Malone-Miller doesn’t have a website. This is a Republican open seat – Geraldine “Tincy” Miller won with 61% in 2014 but is not running for re-election. This district went for Trump by a small margin in 2016, 50.1%to 44.4%, so it’s a dark horse contender to be flipped.

SD17

Rita Lucido
Fran Watson

Lucido, the 2014 candidate in SD17, nearly won this outright in March, finishing with 48.96% to Watson’s 35.09%. My interview with Lucido is here and with Watson is here. They’re both good candidates and good people.

HD37

Rep. Rene Oliveira
Alex Dominguez

Rep. Oliveira picked a lousy time to get busted on a DUI charge. That’s the sort of thing that tends to held usher Democratic incumbents out of office. Dominguez is a Cameron County Commissioner, so he’s a real threat to Oliveira, who led 48.48% to 36.40% in March.

HD45

Rebecca Bell-Metereau
Erin Zwiener

HD46

Jose “Chito” Vela
Sheryl Cole

HD47

Vikki Goodwin
Elaina Fowler

HD45 used to be a mostly rural district that elected a Democrat from 2002 through 2008 when rural Democrats were common enough, then went Republican in 2010 and has stayed that way as the district has become more suburban as San Marcos and the northern parts of Hays County have grown like gangbusters. Bell-Metereau, who led Zwiener 45.49% to 30.63% in March, is a three-time SBOE candidate, while Zwiener is a children’s author and Jeopardy! winner half her age. This is the kind of district Dems need to win to really make gains in the House, and there’s more focus and optimism on that score than we’ve seen this decade.

HD46 is the seat now held by Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who lost in the primary. The winner of this runoff will be the next Rep; there is a Republican, not that it matters, and an independent candidate who was going to be in a special election to succeed Dukes that never happened dropped out after the March result, citing the fact that both Vela and Cole are fine by him and more importantly to him not Dukes. Thanks to Dukes’ high profile and the fact that a win by Vela could mean there are no African-American legislators from Travis County (see below for HD47), this is probably the hottest House runoff on the ballot. The Trib, the Statesman, and the AusChron all have recent coverage. The score in March was 39.52% for Vela and 38.23% for Cole.

HD47 is the one Travis County district held by a Republican; Rep. Paul Workman rode the 2010 wave and got a friendlier map in 2011, but the district is not deep red and if there’s a year he could be in trouble, this is it. I really haven’t followed this one and only learned about these candidates while writing this post, but there’s coverage in the Statesman and AusChron if you want to catch up. The AusChron endorsed Fowler and Vela; Fowler is African-American so if she makes it all the way then Travis County would still have African-American representation at the Capitol.

HD64

Mat Pruneda
Andrew Morris

Another race I haven’t followed. HD64 is in Denton County, where incumbent Rep. Lynn Stucky is a ParentPAC endorsee. The district is in Denton County and it is red but not super duper red, though it is redder than neighboring HD65. The latter will flip before this one does, but it will be worth keeping an eye on it to measure progress.

HD109

Deshaundra Lockhart Jones
Carl Sherman

This is the seat being vacated by the retiring Rep. Helen Giddings. The runoff winner will be sworn in next January. Both candidates exceeded 40% in March, with Jones leading by four points. Sherman is the former Mayor of DeSoto, and he has the DMN endorsement. Jones is also from DeSoto and has served a couple of terms on its City Council. This race, along with the one in HD46, are rare instances this year where a female incumbent could be succeeded by a male candidate. (I overlooked the HD109 race when I wrote about the gender of primary challengers in January.) Sheryl Cole is an Annie’s List candidate but Deshaundra Lockhart Jones is not; I don’t know if that means something or not. Just wanted to mention it.

HD133

Sandra Moore
Marty Schexnayder

Moore missed hitting the 50% mark by four – count ’em four – votes in March, though I should note that Schexnayder topped forty percent as well. They’re both good candidates and good people, running in a tough district, and I interviewed them both in March – Moore here, Schexnayder here. Moore has the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement, Schexnayder has the Chron. Like I said, they’re both good, so pick who you like and you can’t go wrong.

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.

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

And Democratic women aren’t leaving the men of their own party undisturbed. In Minnesota, former FBI analyst Leah Phifer is challenging incumbent Democratic representative Rick Nolan; Sameena Mustafa, a tenant advocate and founder of the comedy troupe Simmer Brown, is primarying Democrat Mike Quigley in Illinois’s Fifth District. And Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, announced recently that she’s going after Ben Cardin, the 74-year-old who has held one of Maryland’s Senate seats for 11 years and served in the House for 20 years before that.

While the vision of women storming the ramparts of government is radical from one vantage point, from others it’s as American as the idea of representative democracy laid out by our forefathers (like Great-great-great-great-grandpa Frelinghuysen!). “Representative citizens coming from all parts of the nation, cobblers and farmers — that was what was intended by the founders,” says Marie Newman, a former small-business owner and anti-bullying advocate who is challenging Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski in a primary. “You come to the House for a while and bring your ideas and then you probably go back to your life.” Not only has her opponent been in office for 13 years, Newman notes, but his father held the same seat for 20 years before that. “It’s a family that has reigned supreme, like a monarchy, for over 30 years,” she says.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, Newman and the rest of this girl gang are eyeing the aging cast of men (and a few women) who’ve hogged the political stage forever and trying to replace them. Replacement. It’s an alluring concept, striking fear in the hearts of the guys who’ve been running the place — recall that the white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer chanted “You will not replace us” — and stirring hope in the rest of us that a redistribution of power might be possible.

So naturally that made me wonder about what the situation was in Texas. For Congress, there are eleven Democrats from Texas, nine men and two women. Two men are not running for re-election, and in each case the most likely successor is a woman. Of the seven men running for re-election, only one (Marc Veasey) has a primary opponent, another man. Both female members of Congress have primary opponents – Sheila Jackson Lee has a male challenger, Eddie Bernice Johnson has a man and a woman running against her. That woman is Barbara Mallory Caroway, who is on something like her third campaign against EBJ. Basically, nothing much of interest here.

Where it is interesting is at the legislative level. Here are all the Democratic incumbents who face primary challengers, sorted into appropriate groups.

Women challenging men:

HD31 (Rep. Ryan Guillen) – Ana Lisa Garza
HD100 (Rep. Eric Johnson) – Sandra Crenshaw
HD104 (Rep. Robert Alonzo) – Jessica Gonzalez
HD117 (Rep. Phillip Cortez) – Terisha DeDeaux

Guillen’s opponent Garza is a district court judge. He was one of the Dems who voted for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment back in 2005. I’d like to know both of their positions on LGBT equality. Speaking of which, Jessica Gonzalez is among the many LGBT candidates on the ballot this year. Note that Alonzo was on the right side of that vote in 2005, FWIW. Crenshaw appears to be a former member of Dallas City Council who ran for HD110 in 2014. There’s an interesting story to go along with that, which I’ll let you discover on your own. Cortez was first elected in 2012, winning the nomination over a candidate who had been backed by Annie’s List, and he drew some ire from female activists for some of his activity during that campaign. I have no idea how things stand with him today, but I figured I’d mention that bit of backstory.

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

HD27 (Rep. Ron Reynolds) – Wilvin Carter
HD37 (Rep. Rene Oliveira) – Alex Dominguez and Arturo Alonzo
HD41 (Rep. Bobby Guerra) – Michael L. Pinkard, Jr
HD118 (Rep. Tomas Uresti) – Leo Pacheco
HD139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson) – Randy Bates
HD142 (Rep. Harold Dutton) – Richard Bonton
HD147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman) – Daniel Espinoza

Men challenging women:

HD116 (Rep. Diana Arevalo) – Trey Martinez Fischer
HD124 (Rep. Ina Minjarez) – Robert Escobedo
HD146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry) – Roy Owens

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

We know about Reps. Reynolds and Dukes. Bates and Owens represent rematches – Bates was in the 2016 primary, while Owens competed unsuccessfully in the precinct chair process for HD146, then ran as a write-in that November, getting a bit less than 3% of the vote. Alonzo and Bonton look like interesting candidates, but by far the hottest race here is in HD116, where TMF is seeking a return engagement to the Lege, and a lot of his former colleagues are there for him. I imagine things could be a bit awkward if Rep. Arevalo hangs on. Anyway, I don’t know that there are any lessons to be learned from this, I just wanted to document it.

Charges against Dukes dropped

She beat the rap.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Travis County prosecutors have dropped their criminal charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, saying Monday that a felony case against the state lawmaker should never have been brought.

The announcement ends a months-long legal saga in which Dukes was accused of abusing public office after a grand jury indicted her on 13 felony charges and two misdemeanor charges earlier this year. But prosecutors have, over recent weeks, been forced to admit that their case against the Austin Democrat was based on flawed evidence.

“Representative Dukes was innocent from day one,” said Dane Ball, an attorney for Dukes, in a statement. “We’re glad Representative Dukes can get back to serving her constituents without the distraction of these baseless charges.”

The felony case against Dukes claimed she had unlawfully tampered with a government record by falsifying entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to. But Travis County prosecutors were forced to put their felony case on hold last month after claiming a key witness in the case — who managed the official paperwork for the Texas House of Representatives — had changed his story.

Then, earlier this month, prosecutors were forced to drop one of the felony charges after acknowledging they had misread a date on Dukes’ cellphone, which formed a key piece of evidence they had gathered against her.

See here for more on that previous update. To say the least, the Travis County DA’s office did not cover itself in glory in this case. Margaret Moore needs to take a hard look at how this happened, and hold some people accountable for it. I’m not a fan of Dawnna Dukes, but she did not deserve to go through this.

Which is not to say that Dukes has been exemplary throughout. She’s a mediocre legislator who misses a lot of votes and as the story notes settled some misdemeanor issues related to misuse of funds by agreeing to pay everything back. She will have a full slate of opponents next year, most of whom once intended to run in a special election after she was supposed to resign her seat in January. I won’t be sorry to see her lose, if she does. Still, I have to figure that the ending of this saga will help in her re-election bid. She was wronged and she prevailed, and that’s an appealing story to tell the voters. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Dukes gets deferral on felony charges

Possibly good news for one embattled legislative incumbent.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

The Travis County district attorney will not pursue, at least for now, the most serious charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, saying prosecutors have renewed their investigation into the travel vouchers at the heart of the 13 felony counts the Austin Democrat is facing.

District Attorney Margaret Moore confirmed to the American-Statesman on Thursday that prosecutors have obtained new information relating to the vouchers, which Dukes is accused of falsifying for financial gain. But Moore declined to elaborate on what the new information is.

“The district attorney’s office recently received new, unexpected information pertinent to that case and the new information has created a need for further investigation by this office and the Texas Rangers,” Moore said.

The case had been set for trial in October. On Wednesday, Moore’s office informed Dukes’ defense lawyers and state District Judge Brad Urrutia of her decision.

Moore said prosecutors will move forward with the October trial date on two misdemeanor charges against Dukes relating to allegations of her using legislative staffers for personal gain.

[…]

The 13 felony counts stem from monthly travel voucher forms Dukes signed in late 2013 and 2014. The forms stated that, on the dates in question, Dukes “traveled by personal car to the Capitol to attend to legislative duties.” She was paid $61.50 for each day she claimed on the forms.

The House Manual of Policies & Procedures states that lawmakers can collect the travel pay between legislative sessions for trips to Austin “to attend to legislative duties in their office.”

KiYa Moghaddam, a former Dukes staffer who prepared the voucher forms for Dukes during that time, told the Statesman last year that she questioned Dukes about misusing the forms.

“I told her that she had to actually be at the Capitol,” Moghaddam said last year. “I was thinking about the fact that I’m a taxpayer, and I don’t necessarily want my tax payments going to someone who’s not working for the interest of the constituency she represents.”

The indictment says that Dukes did “knowingly make a false entry in a government record, and present and use said government record with knowledge of its falsity, by instructing her staff to add a false entry to her State of Texas Travel Voucher Form.”

Dukes was paid $799.50 for the 13 days included in the indictment. She was a frequent user of the voucher forms, collecting $4,674 from 76 days she claimed in the first nine months of 2014. She abruptly stopped collecting the travel pay at that time, which was when Moghaddam questioned her use of the vouchers.

See here for the most recent update. We don’t know what new evidence the DA’s office has, so we can’t say whether this may lead to charges being dismissed or reduced, or possibly added. Or maybe it puts the DA in a stronger position to negotiate a plea deal. It seems more likely than not to be good news for Dukes, but let’s wait and see what the next story is before drawing any conclusions. In the meantime, she still faces trial on the misdemeanor charges, and multiple primary opponents who have been calling for her to honor her previous pledge to step down.

No deal for Dukes

The die is cast.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

The Travis County District Attorney’s office on Tuesday said its offer to drop all corruption charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, in exchange for her agreeing to resign immediately had expired.

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune after 5 p.m. Tuesday, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said she’d had no contact from the attorneys for Dukes.

“The offer to resolve this matter has expired and is no longer available,” Moore said in a statement. “We will be ready for trial.”

[…]

“It is truly not dignifying this new low that such character assassination has hit in this web woven to influence a court of public opinion,” Dukes wrote in a Facebook post Monday night. “As such, it would be indecorous of me to respond to impertinent allegations.”

When the Tribune asked Dukes about the DA office’s deal Tuesday morning, Dukes said, “I’m not talking about that right now.”

Dukes declining the deal means the district attorney’s office will move forward with the trial, which was set by Judge Brad Urrutia for Oct. 16.

“It’s time to move on. Some form of this deal has been discussed [with Dukes] since September,” Moore told the Tribune on Monday. “We’ve got to go to work, and we’re going to be preparing for trial.”

See here for the background. On the Off the Kuff Facebook page, the point was raised that using the threat of prosecution to push an elected official to resign may not be something we should want. It’s a valid concern, and I see where it comes from. I guess I see this as part of a plea agreement, one which Dukes has chosen not to take. All other issues aside, we’ll know in October whether she made a wise decision.

Dukes offered deal to resign

Take it, I say.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Beleaguered state Rep. Dawnna Dukes has until the end of the day Tuesday to resign from office — and submit to a drug and alcohol assessment — as part of a plea offer in her criminal corruption case.

The plea offer is similar to one Dukes rejected last year prior to the Texas Rangers launching an investigation that led to a Travis County grand jury indicting Dukes on 13 felony charges and two misdemeanors.

Dukes did not respond to messages left by the American-Statesman on Monday morning. She told reporters in June after pleading not guilty that she would not take any plea deals and instead will proceed to trial on Oct. 16.

The deal expires at the close of the business day on Tuesday and will not be re-offered, according to Justin Wood of the district attorney’s office.

[…]

In exchange for accepting the offer, the DA’s office has agreed to drop all charges, but only after Dukes has complied with all conditions.

See here, here, and here for some background. As she has not yet been convicted of anything, Dukes is not mandated to resign by my lights. It’s her long term record of lousiness as a representative that makes me wish to see the back of her. Do us all a favor and take the deal, Dawnna. It would be the best thing you’ve done for your constituents in recent memory. The Trib has more.

Dukes pleads not guilty

To all counts.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, entered not guilty pleas to abuse-of-office charges Friday in Travis County district court.

The 12-term lawmaker pleaded not guilty to tampering with a governmental record and abuse of official capacity by a public servant. Judge Brad Urrutia on Friday set a trial date of Oct. 16.

Dukes told reporters outside the court room: “Why accept a plea when I didn’t do what they are alleging?”

“No one has heard all of the evidence and heard my side,” Dukes said. “There’s been a barrage of print media that has attempted to try me in the court of public opinion, yet the court and the proceedings have not begun and when they do, my attorney will tell the full story, the whole story and show that unequivocally I am not guilty of these charges.”

[…]

Dukes has faced criticism for missing votes and being absent from the House floor. She was not in attendance when the House voted on the final budget.

When asked if she was going to run for re-election, Dukes said: “That is a very strong possibility.”

See here and here for the background. Dukes is entitled to her day in court, and she’s innocent until proven guilty, but she’s been a replacement level legislator for a long time. One way or another, this needs to be her last term.

Dukes fails to get charges tossed

Too bad for her.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

A Travis County state district judge denied a motion by state Rep. Dawnna Dukes to dismiss four felony counts against her for tampering with public records.

Dukes’ attorneys on March 8 asked Judge Brad Urrutia to dismiss four of her 13 indicted felony charges, arguing that an agreement she signed in September 2016 to waive statute of limitations on those counts was invalid for technical reasons.

Urrutia made a brief written ruling: “Having considered the evidence presented, the argument of counsel, and the applicable law, defendant’s motion is denied.”

His decision was not unexpected after Urrutia expressed skepticism at the hearing, telling Dukes’ attorneys “Your client certainly derived a benefit, a great benefit, from signing a waiver. You’re asking me to create new law.”

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, cannot appeal the ruling.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have anything to add here, I’m just keeping track of the story and waiting till the filing period to see who’ll challenge Dukes next March, assuming she hasn’t reconsidered her decision to un-resign by then. The Trib has more.

Dukes indicted

Boom.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

A grand jury has indicted state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, on abuse-of-office charges, the Travis County District Attorney’s office said Wednesday. She could face up to 28 years in jail and fines of up to $138,000.

The first indictment charges 13 counts of tampering with a governmental record, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. These charges are based on allegations that Dukes made false entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said in a news release.

Two separate indictments were also handed down for abuse of official capacity by a public servant, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. These “relate to allegations that Rep. Dukes misused public funds for her personal gain, and that she converted campaign funds to personal use.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Dukes said she is “disappointed” with the grand jury’s decision and will “be entering a plea of not guilty.”

On Wednesday afternoon, she went to the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center to get fingerprinted and have her mug shot taken. In brief remarks outside the county courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Dukes, flanked by her lawyers, she said she is “very relieved … to begin the process of getting out the other side of the story that I have not been able to speak about since February.”

“I will focus my time and my energy on the people of District 46 and their issues and their concerns,” Dukes told reporters. “I do not intend at all to allow anyone to get me distracted.”

See here and here for the background. I have not been calling for indicted AG Ken Paxton to resign from his office, partly because as crooked as I think he is, he hasn’t been convicted of anything yet, and partly for the crass political reason that I’d rather have us Dems run against a possible convicted felon than against a clean replacement. I have no crass political reason for wanting Dawnna Dukes to stay in office, and as we know she had originally said she was going to resign for various personal reasons then changed her mind at the last minute. As such, while I remain steadfast in the belief that one is innocent until proven guilty, I’d really like to see Dawnna Dukes resign. She is highly unlikely to be an effective advocate for her constituents this session, and they deserve better. But that’s ultimately their call as much as hers – if the people who have been electing her want her to leave, she should listen to them. I hope they do, and I hope she does.

Dawnna Dukes case to go before grand jury

Awesome.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Travis County prosecutors and Texas Rangers will present evidence to a grand jury that state Rep. Dawnna Dukes abused the power of her office, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore told the American-Statesman.

Among possible charges: abuse of official capacity and tampering with public records, Moore said.

Dukes was sworn into office for a 12th term Tuesday after reneging on a plan to step down before the Legislature convened.

Moore said that the grand jury proceedings will begin next Tuesday.

[…]

The case against Dukes began when members of legislative staff in early 2016 questioned her requiring them to do personal errands for her and work full-time on a nonprofit event. In one instance, Dukes gave a state employee a raise to cover gas money for driving her daughter to and from school.

See here for the background. KXAN was first with the story, and adds some more detail about the resignation that wasn’t.

When asked why she decided to retract her resignation, Dukes told KXAN’s Political Reporter Phil Prazan that she made her decision because her experience and qualifications make her the best person for the job. She said she had to listen to her constituents.

“I listened to the constituents who requested over and over and over again, since my announcement, that I would reconsider that I would come back,” says Dukes, who has served HD 46 since 1995. Dukes says she worked with her doctors to make sure she was healthy enough to make sure she would not be absent from the 2017 session.

[…]

There are currently five people who are vying for House District 46 and all appear to still be moving forward with their campaigns. Former Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole held a news conference Tuesday afternoon to say that she’s still in the race, whether it will be in a special election or the Democratic primary for 2018.

Chito Vela also sent out an advisory for his official campaign kickoff, which is scheduled for Thursday. In his message, he says, “East Austin needs a progressive voice that will fight for the interests of working class voters.”

Gabriel Nila, the only GOP candidate going for the seat, knew he had an uphill battle in a district that typically votes at least 80 percent Democrat.

“Our concern, mine and several other people, is that she will do the exact same thing that she did in 2015—make a couple of appearances here and there, but not take care of the issues that need taking care of,” said Nila.

That sound you hear is me banging my head on my desk. The Trib has more.

Dukes un-resigns

Ugh.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes confirmed to the Texas Tribune in an email Monday that she is not resigning from her post with House District 46, just two days after blindsiding supporters and fellow lawmakers with her reverse decision.

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, announced in September that she would retire from office on Jan. 10, the first day of the legislative session, after more than 20 years in the Texas House. She cited ongoing health issues and concerns over caring for her 9-year-old daughter but it came while the Travis County District Attorney office was conducting a criminal investigation over her alleged misuse of staff and government funds.

On Saturday, just days after her own spokesperson confirmed to the Tribune that her resignation would go forward, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Duke had told the new Travis County District Attorney, Margaret Moore, that she had changed her mind about retiring. The decision came as a surprise to candidates intending to vie for her seat after she resigned.

See here and here for the background. I feel like an idiot now for ever believing her, but at least I’m not as big an idiot as her spokesman.

On Friday, Bill Miller a spokesman for Dukes, confirmed to the Tribune that Dukes still planned to resign on Tuesday. “She won’t be answering questions prior to that date,” he wrote in an email to the Tribune.

Asked Saturday about the report Dukes wouldn’t resign after all, Miller told the Tribune that he had breakfast with [Travis County DA Margaret] Moore last week and “presumably, it would be a topic of conversation between us if Dukes told her she would not resign.”

“I know what I was told long ago and no one has told me otherwise. [Dukes] is going to do whatever she is going to do,” Miller wrote in an email.

Bet the next staff meeting is a bit awkward. The Statesman reported on this over the weekend, and it gets even weirder.

It wasn’t clear Saturday whether Dukes’ health had improved or why she had reversed course. She has kept a low profile since news broke of possible ethics violations nearly a year ago, and has not responded to repeated requests for comment from the Statesman over the past several months. She did not immediately respond when contacted on Saturday.

[…]

Dukes’ decision did not come on the advice of Fort Worth defense attorney Michael Heiskell, who had been representing her.

“That was not my advice to her,” said Heiskill, who said Dukes had not consulted with him before reversing her decision to step down.

Is he still her attorney?

“Apparently not,” Heiskill said.

Heiskill said he had been contacted earlier in the week by Houston attorney Dane Ball who said he was looking into the matter at Dukes’ request.

Heiskill said it had been his hope that if Dukes had stepped down, the Travis County district attorney would not have sought an indictment.

“But all that’s been scuttled now if what I am hearing is true,” Heiskill said.

Well, maybe the DA will force the matter. Regardless, I look forward to supporting someone in the 2018 primary against Dukes. The Austin Chronicle has more.

One HD46 hopeful calls on Rep. Dukes to resign now

From the inbox:

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

This morning, Chito Vela called on current State Representative Dawnna Dukes to immediately resign her position as State Representative for Texas House District 46 instead of waiting until January 10, as she previously announced. If Rep. Dukes waits until January 10 to resign, the seat will likely not be filled until March or even later if there is a runoff election.

“If Rep. Dukes waits until January 10 to resign, families in East Austin, Manor and Pflugerville would go without any representation in the Texas House for most of the legislative session,” Vela said. “I know what it takes to run a Capitol office,” he continued. “It takes time to hire staff, set up shop, and propose legislation. By waiting so long to resign, Rep. Dukes is hurting her successor, her constituents, and all Texas Democrats.”

If Rep. Dukes resigns immediately, the seat can be filled quickly, ensuring working families in District 46 have a voice and providing an important Democratic vote against bad legislation. Vela challenged all other candidates for the seat to join him in calling for Dukes’ immediate resignation.

“Rep. Dukes needs to put the needs of her constituents first and immediately resign her seat,” he added. “The values and interests of our community will be under attack in the coming legislative session. Texas Democrats need every vote they can get.”

Once Rep. Dukes resigns, Governor Abbott has 20 days to call a special election for the seat. Because the vacancy will occur within 60 days of the start of the 85th Legislative Session, the election must be held no earlier than 21 days and no later than 45 days after Gov. Abbott calls the election. If Rep. Dukes resigns immediately, the election would be held well before the bill filing deadline of March 10, 2017. If she resigns on January 10 as she previously announced, it is unlikely the seat would be filled before the bill filing deadline, leaving her successor with little opportunity to propose new legislation.

See here for some background. Vela is echoing the same points I noted about the special election timeline, which will almost certainly include a runoff. There’s no particular reason I can think of why Dukes needs to delay her departure till January 10 – she’s long since been invested in the Lege’s pension, and it’s not like there’s any bills she has to file, since she wouldn’t be there to get them passed. One could argue that her constituents would have been best served if she had stepped down immediately after the election; if she had, the special to replace her would already be on the calendar. I find myself in agreement with Chito Vela on this one. Step down now, Rep. Dukes, and let your successor take office in time to have an effect on the 2017 session. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Who’s in to succeed Rep. Dawnna Dukes?

There are three confirmed candidates already to succeed Rep. Dawnna Dukes when she steps down next month.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Despite announcing her plan six weeks earlier to resign instead of serving another term, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes handily won re-election earlier this month.

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, abruptly announced her plan to retire in late September, citing health issues related to a 2013 car accident and concerns over caring for her 9-year-old daughter. Her announcement came amid an ongoing investigation by the Travis County District Attorney’s office into Duke’s alleged misuse of staff and government funds. Prosecutors were ready to ask a grand jury to indict Dukes just before she announced her retirement, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Despite the cloud over her office, Dukes, who has served in the House since 1994, earned about 70 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Gabriel Nila and two minor-party candidates earlier this month. Dukes’ House District 46 includes parts of Austin, Pflugerville and Manor.

Dukes has said her resignation will take effect on Jan. 10, the opening day of the 2017 legislative session. Gov. Greg Abbott has 20 days from receiving Dukes’ letter of resignation to announce the date of a special election to fill the seat, according to the Governor’s office.

Here are the Texans who have openly discussed running in the special election:

Gabriel Nila

The 44-year-old has lived in the district since 2012 and teaches at-risk youths in the area. He ran as a Republican against Dukes in the November election, earning around 19 percent of the vote. It was his first bid for public office.

Sheryl Cole

The 52-year-old former Austin mayor pro tem and city councilwoman is a longtime resident of East Austin. She and her husband, Kevin Cole, have three boys.

Jose “Chito” Vela III

The 42-year-old attorney has lived in the district for 12 years and sits on the city of Austin’s Planning Commission. He is the former board chair of the Workers Defense Project, a law firm dedicated to serving immigrants.

Vincent Harding

The 29-year-old is current chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party. He is also a local attorney and graduate of the University of Texas School of Law.

Kevin Ludlow

Ludlow ran as a Libertarian against Dukes in the general election and came in third, drawing 6 percent of the vote. He also ran against Dukes in 2014. The 37-year-old is a University of Texas at Austin alumni who operates a software firm and has lived in Austin for 19 years.

See here for the background. Cole and Vela are Democrats, and they along with Nila all confirmed that they were running. Harding and Ludlow were both maybes. One Democrat who had previously expressed an interest, Joe Deshotel, said he was out. A Green Party candidate who had been on the ballot in November couldn’t be reached for comment in the story. I feel confident saying the final list of candidates will be longer than three. Given that Abbott will have till January 30 to call for the special election, I will assume it will happen in early to mid-March, with a runoff in early April. That will give whoever wins time to cast some important votes, but not to do much else.

First contenders line up for HD46

There will be more.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

The race to replace longtime Austin state Rep. Dawnna Dukes got underway hours after her Monday morning announcement that she will resign effective Jan. 10.

First out of the gate was former Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, who issued a statement saying she is “seriously considering running.”

Joe Deshotel, son of state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said it is more likely than not that he will join the race.

Travis County Democratic Party Chairman Vincent Harding said he will also consider running, once the Nov. 8 election is over.

Several others are considering running but haven’t made public statements about the race.

[…]

Cole, an attorney, was the first African-American woman elected to the Austin City Council, serving from 2006 to 2015 before losing a bid for mayor in 2014.

“I would be grateful for the community’s support in this endeavor and I hope I am honored to serve this district,” she said. “I certainly want to thank Dawnna for her service.”

Deshotel, who is director of community engagement for RideAustin, said he is “most definitely, very, very strongly considering” a run.

“Truthfully, I’m hoping other people get in the race,” Deshotel said. “I don’t think a 20-year seat should be someone walking in without a challenger.”

Harding said he is focused on ensuring Democrats, including Dukes, win on Nov. 8 and will evaluate whether he should run after the election.

See here for the background. I feel confident saying we will hear from more people, most likely after the November election when we’ll be able to focus on anything after that. I can add that Joe Deshotel has been a contributor to the Burnt Orange Report; you can see all his writing on that site here. In the meantime, I think Harding has the right idea about this one. There will be plenty of time to focus on this election after we do what we need to do for the November election.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes to resign

Our first special election for 2017 is now on the clock.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who is facing a criminal investigation over her use of state funds, will resign from her seat in the Texas House in January, according to the Quorum Report, a Texas political news website.

The 11-term Austin Democrat cited medical issues stemming from a 2013 car accident as the reason for her departure.

“This has been a very difficult decision to make. However, in light of my ongoing health issues and concerns, I find that I can no longer provide the active, effective leadership that is needed to continue my sworn duties,” she said. “I must take the time to focus all of my energy to heal and continue to provide for my young daughter and extended family.”

Dukes’ announcement comes as the Texas Rangers and the Travis County district attorney’s office investigate, among other issues, her use of state resources for nongovernmental purposes, including having staff do personal errands for her and work on a nonprofit event she co-founded.

[…]

Dukes will retire Jan. 10, and her name will remain on the Nov. 8 ballot, according to the Quorum Report. If Dukes beats Republican Gabriel Nila, her post-election resignation will mean Gov. Greg Abbott will have to call a special election to fill her seat, the site reported.

Dukes’ district includes parts of North and East Austin, Pflugerville and Manor.

Dukes missed almost all of the 2015 legislative session and has said her frequent absences are because of medical issues related to the August 2013 car crash, in which she was rear-ended while driving on Interstate 35.

See here and here for some background; the QR story is here if you’re a subscriber. I’ve never been a big fan of Rep. Dukes, stemming from her days as a Craddick D, so given her recent ethical issues I’m not broken up by her forthcoming departure. Her district went 76.6% to 20.1% for President Obama in 2012, and 78.4% to 19.2% for Wendy Davis over Greg Abbott in 2014, so I think it is safe to say that she will win in November. I think it’s also safe to say that there will be a lot of interest in her seat, and the special election to fill it, which I presume will take place in February or March with a runoff following, will have a full slate of mostly Democratic candidates. The Trib already has one possible candidate for this office:

Former Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, a longtime resident of East Austin, said Monday she might run for Dukes’ seat.

“This morning I have received an incredible outpouring of support and encouragement from community leaders and my family,” Cole, a Democrat, said in a statement. “It is with their support that I am seriously considering running to House District 46.”

I don’t know Austin local politics well enough to have an opinion on that, but I’m sure I’ll be hearing plenty about all the hopefuls for HD46. For now, let’s just hope for a good outcome. All that said, I wish Rep. Dukes well in whatever comes next for her. The Austin Chronicle, which mentions a few other possible candidates, has more.

Rangers investigating Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Busy days for them.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

The Texas Rangers have joined a Travis County District Attorney office criminal probe into state Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ use of staff, the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed.

“At the request of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, the Texas Rangers are assisting in an investigation into alleged criminal misconduct of Dawnna Dukes,” DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said in a statement released Tuesday.

The Texas Tribune reported in February that the State Auditor’s Office had launched an investigation after Dukes’ then chief of staff, Mike French, asked whether it was legal for the Austin Democrat to ask staff to work on the annual African-American Heritage Festival. The festival is an event Dukes helped create 17 years ago to raise money for scholarships to Huston-Tillotson University.

The auditor’s office referred the case to Travis County prosecutors on April 15, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

See here for some background. I’m sure if Rep. Dukes winds up getting indicted for something, Ken Paxton and Rick Perry will stand with her in solidarity over these overly politicized investigations. Until then, we’ll see what happens. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Weekend scandal news roundup

If anything comes from the Texas Rangers investigation into his questionable expenditures, Ag Commissioner Sid Miller would be prosecuted in Travis County.

Sid Miller

If embattled Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is prosecuted for misusing government funds, his trial would be in Travis County, officials said Friday, despite a new law that sends some corruption cases against state officials and employees to their home counties.

Before December, the public integrity unit in the Travis County district attorney’s office investigated and prosecuted alleged corruption by state officials and employees. House Bill 1690 changed that, moving investigation of accusations such as bribery, gifts to public servants, perjury and tampering with government records to the Texas Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Under the new law, charges can be brought in the official or employee’s home county.

The Rangers are investigating Miller for two February 2015 trips he reportedly took on the state’s dime. Liberal advocacy group Progress Texas requested an investigation into Miller’s state-paid trips, following reports that he participated in a rodeo and received an injection called the “Jesus Shot” while he was supposed to be on the job.

But if Miller’s case leads to a prosecution, it wouldn’t be heard in his home county of Erath because the events in question occurred before the new law took effect in December, officials from DPS and the Travis County district attorney’s office told the Tribune.

See here for an apparently inoperative discussion of the issue. I’m sure Miller would prefer it that way, since it will be much easier for him to complain about political motivations if it’s the Travis County DA and not the Erath County DA prosecuting him.

In the meantime, the Travis County DA already has an investigation going on.

The Texas state auditor’s office has referred its investigation into possible misuse of state workers by state Rep. Dawnna Dukes to Travis County prosecutors, the Austin American-Statesman reported late Friday.

The Texas Tribune reported in February that the auditor’s office was investigating Dukes’ use of state workers for her personal project, the African American Heritage Festival, a nonprofit event Dukes has overseen for 17 years.

The auditor’s investigation was prompted by complaints from Dukes’ former chief of staff, Michael French, who approached House officials in January with concerns about the legality of the staff’s work on the festival.

Dukes acknowledged her staff worked on the festival but said their role was minimal. A Jan. 12 email obtained by the Tribune shows Dukes directing her staff to make the festival a priority.

“Festival is all hands on priority,” Dukes wrote in the email. “I don’t want any delays or fall throughs.”

Two members of Dukes’ staff also expressed concerns over personal errands the lawmakers asked them to run, a list that included smoothie runs, vet visits and babysitting. One staffer moved in with Dukes for three months last summer in exchange for helping the Austin Democrat care for her daughter.

Something to keep in mind amid all the calls for Ken Paxton and Sid Miller to resign. Want another reason to be wary of such an outcome? Here you go.

Texas doesn’t have a cabinet form of government, but in Gov. Greg Abbott’s case, it might soon have the next best thing.

Two of the state’s relatively new elected officials — Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — are in deep political trouble at the moment. If worst comes to worst for either or both of those fine gentlemen, Abbott would appoint their replacements.

That’s a lot more say than he had when they won the positions in 2014.

Yeah, I don’t want that. From a purely partisan perspective, it’s much better for Paxton and Miller to stay where they are and be embarrassments to the rest of the GOP than to let Greg Abbott swoop in and clean up the mess.

And finally, let’s get back to Ken Paxton for a minute.

The state is paying thousands of dollars in salaries and benefits to at least two former high-level staffers in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office who haven’t worked there for over a month.

Charles “Chip” Roy resigned as first assistant attorney general March 9 but remains on the state’s payroll. He received his full month’s salary of $16,220.62 on April 1, according to the state comptroller, and remains on the payroll as an employee of the state even while working a new job for a national political committee.

Roy declined to comment about the payment arrangement, which the agency confirmed Wednesday after The Dallas Morning News raised questions. Despite its earlier public statement that Roy resigned, an agency spokeswoman said Thursday that he’s also on “emergency leave.”

“Roy resigned on March 9th. He is currently on emergency leave through June 10th,” spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said late Thursday.

If Roy’s arrangement continues until then, he will make $48,660 for the three months of emergency leave.

The agency at first offered no further explanation of the reason for the leave. When asked to clarify the emergency, Meyer said: “I’m not sure the answer.”

Texas’ “emergency leave” law says a state employee who has experienced a death in the family can take time off without seeing his or her pay cut. Agency heads also can approve other reasons for emergency leave if the employee “shows good case to take emergency leave.”

Employment law prohibits state workers from pulling down full-time salaries if they don’t work at least 40 hours a week for a public entity. There is no severance for workers who leave state employment, and the law that gives agency heads discretion in granting administrative leave also caps such time at 32 hours per year.

Austin-based campaign finance and ethics attorney Buck Wood questioned the arrangement.

“So, the emergency wasn’t so great that this person can’t work, or has any problems working? They just want to give her or him the money,” said Wood, who was not told the name of the individual or the agency in question. “This person obviously didn’t provide ‘good cause’ because they’re working. They’re just feeding you a line.”

So what was the emergency? Chip Roy needed health insurance.

Former First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy on Friday defended receiving thousands of dollars in salary and benefits after leaving the attorney general’s office to join a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC.

[…]

Roy’s statement indicates that he will receive much less than that because he took the leave option partly for medical reasons that were resolved Thursday.

“The terms of my resignation included from the OAG [office of the attorney general] an option for leave beyond my earned vacation and holiday time,” Roy said in the statement. “The primary benefit to me would have been healthcare coverage in light of being in the five-year window after Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma. My plan has been to go off payroll at OAG using only my earned vacation and holiday time unless it were absolutely necessary to stay on pending the uncertainty of medical tests and subsequent employment. Yesterday I was blessed to receive an all-clear from my Oncologist and my complete departure from the OAG is effective at the time of the expiration of only earned vacation and holiday time.”

So a former top lieutenant of the Texas Attorney General’s office is worried about not having health insurance. Let that sink in for a minute. Then go read what Lize Burr has to say.

Let me put it this way:

Chip Roy was given the option to keep his state-paid health insurance past the normal point of his compensation because he was facing health uncertainty.

Now we come to the genuinely important news this week from the Center for Public Policy Priorities. It’s very simple and completely awful: 1.7 million Texas children live in poverty. 1.7 million children. That means 1.7 million children being raised by adults living in poverty. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, guardians. All in poverty.

And what is one of the greatest threats facing Texas families living in poverty? The cost of health care. Not just the kids’ health care–the parents’ health care. Texas has both the highest number and rate of adults with no medical insurance. These Texans live with an uncertainty that borders on a form of terror. And that is fear is shared by everyone in the home.

Chip Roy probably understands that fear. It’s probably the reason his employer was willing to place him on a special type of leave that continued his state-paid insurance while he was facing health unknowns. That was a humane act that I can understand. However, for a Republican office holder who is committed to the overturning the ACA and is against Medicaid expansion for low income Texas–the rejection of which costs the state of Texas $6 billion in uncompensated care a year–making that gesture isn’t a sign of compassion. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order.

I can’t say it any better than that.

Film incentives

Stuff like this always fascinates me.

In a legislative session marked by a slew of high-profile budget cuts, Texas lawmakers opted to continue offering [film and TV production] incentives, but they reduced the amount available by 50 percent. They approved $30 million to use over the next two years, according to Gov. Rick Perry’s office, down from $60 million in the previous biennium.

“Austin’s biggest competition is New Orleans and Shreveport,” said Rebecca Campbell, executive director of the Austin Film Society. “Productions don’t have to wait in a holding pattern while legislators review the law each session, which gives Louisiana a tremendous edge, with 10 films in New Orleans at the moment.”

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, was among those pushing this session to keep incentive funding at current levels.

“The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program has been extremely successful,” Dukes said. “I am unaware of any other economic stimulus program in the state or the country with such remarkable and proven results, especially in such a short time frame.”

The incentives have had an especially big impact on the Austin area, Dukes said, with more than 100 local projects receiving some sort of state support.

“The 50 percent reduction will certainly slow down the program and its positive outcomes by reducing the number and size of grants which can be awarded,” Dukes said. “Studios and producers are reluctant to start new projects in Texas for fear that the incentive grants will disappear quickly.”

But plenty of projects continue to wind up in Texas, Perry’s office points out. An April report from the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Texas’ IC2 Institute found that $58.1 million in incentives had been awarded between Sept. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2010, with a total economic impact of $1.1 billion and the creation of 10,000-plus full-time jobs.

The Bureau of Business Research’s website is here, and their fairly short report is here (PDF). Note that video games are part of the package. I personally remain skeptical, but perhaps you’ll be persuaded. Mostly, I think these sorts of incentives represent a large public subsidy of various industries that generate no net economic output on a national level. It just moves stuff from one place to another, benefiting one state at the expense of another, while reducing total tax revenues. How many of the movies, TV shows, video games, and whatnot that receive these incentives would not have been made at all in their absence? Very few is my guess, since it’s not the marginal operators that get them. But that’s not the world we live in. What do you think about this?

House passes budget

The main objective of the special session has now been accomplished. But not before one of the House’s biggest homophobes nearly derailed it on Thursday.

Lengthy debate on a key budget bill featured many retreads of contentious topics from the regular session — but it was Rep. Wayne Christian’s revival of his famous “pansexual” amendment around midnight that almost killed the whole thing.

Christian, R-Center, proposed banning state funding of college gender and sexuality centers through an amendment to the Senate Bill 1 fiscal matters bill that contained the school finance plan of $4 billion in cuts to districts statewide and several payment deferrals and tax accelerations adding up to about $3.5 billion in revenue, all essential to balancing the 2012-13 budget.

Democrats tried to persuade him to pull down the amendment in what was one of the most emotional debates of the regular or special sessions.

“You are violating the first amendment rights of these people,” Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said, adding, “If you pass this amendment tonight, you will be buying Texas a lawsuit.”

Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, reminded members that James Byrd, the man dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas, died in Christian’s district. His amendment, she said, was “all about creating hate.”

As Christian described the “naked rear end” he said was shown during a university seminar on anal sex, Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, walked up, grabbed his microphone and said, “this is sickening.”

When their efforts proved unsuccessful, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, called a point of order, one he apparently had been holding in reserve throughout the day and night, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

After several minutes, during which rumors flew that the Democrats would torpedo the entire bill if the amendment wasn’t withdrawn, an apparently chastened Christian returned to the microphone. He said that he didn’t want to destroy a day’s work and would back down — and that he never intended to sound prejudiced or discriminatory.

“I pray for the day when we actually can discuss things and bring those walls of prejudice down,” he said. He complained that a defense of traditional values was labeled as bigotry by some.

Yes, poor Wayne is the one that’s being discriminated against here. How can anyone be free if he’s not free to hate gay people? We all should be more understanding of Rep. Christian’s alternate lifestyle choice. Postcards, Abby Rapoport, and Juanita have more on that.

All that happened on second reading. SB1 has now passed on third reading as well. Along the way, an attempt to remove the Howard-Farrar amendment, which would direct any surplus revenue from the Rainy Day fund to public education, was rebuffed. It’s not clear what happened with the Amazon sales tax amendment. From here, it’s back to conference committee to work out the remaining differences, but most of the hard work is now done.

Budget debate resumes tomorrow

Postcards:

The Texas House [has called] it a night.

They finished up the section of the budget bill that deals with public and higher education around 12:40 a.m. then adjourned until Sunday.

Some members were planning to attend a Saturday morning funeral in Houston for the late husband of Democratic state Rep. Alma Allen.

There is plenty more work to do when the members return to work at 4 p.m. Sunday. They will start with the judiciary but have finished with the behemoths of education and health and human services.

A lot of the time was spent moving funds from one place to another, since adding revenues was off the table. Many Democrats refused to vote on a number of these amendments.

Symbolic protest votes by many Democrats on Friday could not derail the Republicans in the Texas House as they chugged through hundreds of amendments to the 2012-13 budget.

Outnumbered and overpowered, almost all of the Democratic House members repeatedly registered as “present, not voting” on the Republican amendments to House Bill 1 that sought to move money — mostly from family planning — to other priorities.

“I will not be put in the position of pulling from one need to (give to) another,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat and the vice chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

[…]

Family planning programs sustained a devastating blow by the Republican money-shifting, losing $61 million out of their $99 million in funding. The amendments redirected the money to other programs, including mental health services for children and programs for autistic children.

Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said the discussion was inherently political because some of the clinics that would lose funding might recommend abortions, though the abortions are not state-funded.

But for all the politics, the money would end up going “to something that was worthy,” Zerwas said.

Democrats protested the shifts in funding.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, said family planning services that would be lost were used by almost 200,000 women last year.

She noted that the services wouldn’t include abortion, but rather procedures such as cancer screenings, mammograms and Pap smears.

This is the fundamental difference between the House and Senate approaches. The Senate has decided it doesn’t want to have to make these kinds of choices if it doesn’t have to, which is why it’s looking for more funds. The House is perfectly happy to live with self-imposed, arbitrary limits on funding, and thus spent the evening robbing Peter to pay Paul. Turner described it as Solomon’s choice, wondering “What would Solomon say to the two mothers?” Something about “living within our means” and “we were elected to make tough choices like this” would be my guess. There’s material here for a thousand campaign ads.

There’s also a different approach that won’t be considered.

Democratic state Reps. Yvonne Davis of Dallas and Borris Miles of Houston have filed a bill that would collect an additional $23 billion a year of revenue for Texas by repealing assorted exemptions from sales, franchise and property taxes.

The bill would help the state fix its fiscal crisis by letting Texas “stop the bleeding and collect the money!” Davis said Friday.

She and Miles said deep cuts in the House budget to public schools and nursing homes are unacceptable, and blamed state GOP leaders for poor fiscal management in recent years.

It’d be nice to at least have a debate about a bill like this, but we won’t get one. On the plus side, an amendment by Rep. Mike Villarreal that “directs the Comptroller to determine whether current tax loopholes accomplish their intended purpose; whether they are inefficient, ineffective, or unnecessary; and what the impact is on jobs and economic development” did get passed, so that’s something. Statements from Reps. Garnet Coleman, Mike Villarreal, and Borris Miles about what has transpired so far are beneath the fold. Get ready for another all nighter tomorrow.

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House Appropriations Committee passes a budget

It’s not much different than what they started out with.

House budget-writers were able to sprinkle some extra money into education and health care but otherwise did little to change the bare-bones proposal with which they started.

The 2012-13 budget will hit the House floor late next week after the Appropriations Committee approved House Bill 1 Wednesday morning in an 18 to 7 party-line vote.

Weighing in at $164.5 billion — about $23 billion less than the current two-year budget — the bill still follows the no-new-taxes, deep-cutting approach that state leaders have long advocated.

“It is a budget that reflects the money we have,” said Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. “There’s a lot of members of the House, this is as far as we can go.”

Basically, take the original cut-everything, fund-nothing budget, add the $4.3 billion we got back from using a little bit of the Rainy Day Fund to close the last biennium’s shortfall (which as far as I know has yet to be ratified by the House), and leave it at that. Rep. Pitts sounds like he realizes what a turd this budget is.

Rep. Jim Pitts said he’d like to see House-Senate budget negotiators massage the budget his Appropriations Committee approved Wednesday — and even “make it better.”

But Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the House’s chief budget writer, said Texans alarmed at the budget’s deep cuts in spending will need to change some minds in the House, which has an unusually large number of freshman, many elected with tea party support.

“There’s a lot of members of the House, this is as far as we can go,” Pitts said. Asked to elaborate, he said, “They don’t like anything else put in this bill. They feel like they were elected to make cuts.”

I’m glad we’re all clear on that, because I for one will be happy to make the 2012 and 2014 elections all about it. Democrats did the right thing and unanimously voted against this budget, while all Republicans voted for it. Which, again, is fine by me. A press release about this from four of the Dems on Appropriations is here, but I’ve included it beneath the fold because it’s worth quoting in full.

Putting questions of electoral politics aside, there is still the very real matter of whether the House and the Senate can agree on a budget. Texas Politics explores that a little further.

The day before the House Appropriations Committee approved a budget that’s about $23 billion less than the current two-year budget and that includes huge cuts for health care and education, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was expressing confidence that the Senate would be able to come up with additional revenue to make cuts all agree are inevitable slightly less injurious.

Asked whether a Senate subcommittee was looking for $5 billion in non-tax revenues, he said, “I’m not sure that I or the committee are looking for a specific number, but we’re looking for an alternative if we don’t go into the rainy day fund as much as some of the members in both the Senate and the House are considering. And what I would rather see is a larger list rather than a smaller list, so that we can very carefully and thoughtfully go through and pick those, if any, that we think make sense and that will fund our operations. In some cases, some of the non-tax revenues are one-time; some of it is recurring.”

Sale of state property is among the list of possibilities, Dewhurst said.

He was parsing his words carefully, knowing that an internecine budget battle looms and knowing also that he’s likely the one who will have to find a solution that somehow mollifies zealous anti-tax, anti-spend members in both houses while avoiding cuts that go deep into the muscle and bones of many state services.

Good luck with that, a sentiment I mean half sarcastically and half sincerely. We’ll let you know how you did next year. EoW, Trail Blazers and Texas Politics has more, and here’s an LBB analysis of HB1, which you’ll either have to figure out how to rotate or risk getting a kink in your neck trying to read.

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District representation in Austin

I have to admit, it hadn’t occurred to me that there were any large cities in Texas that didn’t have City Council districts, but Austin is such a place, at least for now.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell will soon propose sweeping changes to Austin’s elections and governing structure, including creating districts for City Council representation, an idea voters have rebuffed before.

The aim of the changes, Leffingwell said, is to compel more people to vote in council elections, which have a history of abysmal turnout.

Currently, the mayor and six council members represent the entire city of nearly 800,000 people. Leffingwell wants to replace that with a hybrid system, in which six council members would represent smaller districts and two council members and the mayor would represent the whole city.

The mayor also wants to increase the maximum amount people can donate to city campaigns (currently $350 per donor) and move city elections from May to November of odd -numbered years, which would involve increasing council members’ terms from three to four years.

Austin voters have rejected district plans six times since 1973 , most recently in 2002 .

“Even though it has failed before, I sense a different mood out there,” said Leffingwell, who will detail his plans in his State of the City speech Feb. 25 . He will also host a Feb. 28 public forum with former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros and former Houston Mayor Bill White to talk about the district idea and other subjects.

Apparently, previous attempts at this failed because the plan was put to a vote before there was a map of the proposed districts, and because the size of Council would have been doubled. With Census data coming soon, the former should not be an obstacle, and the current proposal has an increase of only two seats. So maybe this time there’s hope.

One obstacle still remains, however:

Another past hurdle that’s likely to resurface this year is the drawing of a district that has a large concentration of African American residents and that would give black voters a fair chance to elect candidates they favor.

Since the 1970s, an unwritten rule has reserved one Austin council seat for a Hispanic person and one for an African American. Some say that so-called “gentleman’s agreement” is arcane.

“The idea of holding a seat for a particular race empowers the old Austin fathers,” said Nelson Linder , president of the Austin NAACP. “It’s time for a new model that’s more competitive and inclusive and that empowers everybody.”

Because blacks are dispersed across Austin and make up only about 8 percent of Austin’s population, the city would have to draw at least 14 districts with equal populations to form just one with a majority of black residents, city demographer Ryan Robinson said.

Council Member Sheryl Cole , the council’s only black member, said she would support putting a hybrid system to a vote but questions whether the Justice Department would approve a map that includes no district with an African American majority.

A six-district map would probably have one district in Southeast Austin and one in North-Central or Northeast Austin with a majority of Hispanic residents , and one district stretching from Central East to Northeast Austin that has more black than Hispanic or white residents but not a majority, Robinson said.

Houston had a similar tradition for the At Large #5 seat, but then Chris Bell filed for it and won in a 1997 special election, and Michael Berry did the same in 2003 after abandoning his Mayoral campaign. The problem with unwritten rules is that they’re unenforceable. As for the question of drawing a Council district that an African-American could win, I will simply note that Travis County, which has six legislative districts, has counted Dawnna Dukes among its delegation for more than a decade now. According to the Texas Redistricting webpage Dukes’ district (HD46) is 27.1% black by population, 26.1% by voting age population (VAP), while the numbers for Anglos are 27.9 and 32.6, and the numbers for Hispanics are 42.1 and 37.9. Surely a suitable district can be drawn within Austin.

TPJ files complaint with Ethics Commission against Craddick

Texans for Public Justice has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission against former Speaker Tom Craddick, alleging that he obfuscated campaign donations made to several Democratic supporters of his prior to the 2008 primaries. From their press release (PDF):

Jobs PAC reported that it received $250,000 from Tom Craddick’s campaign committee on January 10, 2008. According to news reports, around that time Craddick campaign employee Christi Craddick also provided Texas Jobs with written instructions to distribute the funds to Democratic Reps. Kevin Bailey, Dawnna Dukes, Kino Flores and Aaron Pena.1 All four incumbents previously supported Republican Speaker Craddick and faced challengers in the 2008 Democratic primary.2 According to its own reports, Jobs PAC wrote three checks of $50,000 apiece to the campaigns of Reps. Bailey, Flores and Pena on January 11, 2008. By its own accounting, at the time Texas Jobs wrote these checks its sole source of funding was the $250,000 that it received the day before from the Craddick campaign. Rep. Dukes, the fourth lawmaker, told the Austin American-Statesman that she rejected an offer to receive $50,000 from Texas Jobs because her opponent already was making her Craddick ties a campaign issue.3

“Tom Craddick wanted to move tens of thousands of dollars to his favorite Democrats without letting voters know,” said Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald. “Hiding the true source of campaign funds is illegal. Craddick could have contributed the money directly and openly. Instead, he used Texas Jobs to launder his money and keep Texans in dark.”

The TPJ filed a criminal complaint with the Travis County Attorney’s office last year when this information first came out. I am not aware of any updates to this case, but I suspect that it went nowhere, else there’d be little reason to take things up with the TEC. We’ll see what happens. More on this can be found here and here.

TxDOT lives, Lege adjourns

The threat of a special session has been averted…we think.

The House just voted to work the Legislature out of a jam by keeping open the Texas Department of Transportation and other state agencies at risk of closing.

Members needed a little handiwork to make it happen, and some would say they flat ignored House rules to do it.

The problem began Sunday, when the Legislature failed to pass a bill keeping open the transportation agency, the Texas Department of Insurance and a handful of other agencies. Those agencies were up for review by the Legislature this year, and so they were scheduled to close if those reviews were not complete.

Today, the last day of the legislative session, is supposed to be only for technical corrections to bills. The House just made what sponsors called a technical correction to a bill authorizing state agencies to receive federal stimulus dollars.

Agencies have to be open in order to get stimulus dollars, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts. So the House corrected the stimulus bills to say that the departments at risk would stay open.

As with everything else, that was not without controversy.

Reps. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas and Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, protested that lawmakers were doing an end-run on traditions and rules that allow only minor tweaks to bills on the session’s final day. They said the concurrent resolution, passed by a vote of 111-29, made substantive changes in law. It would prevent closure of the transportation and insurance departments this fall. With Senate approval, they and three other small agencies would face “sunset” review by lawmakers next session.

One advantage of the resolution is it averted a need to get two-thirds of House members to suspend rules to bring back to life a “safety net” bill that would take the agencies off the chopping block. Since the voter ID meltdown in the House last month, Republicans have been loath to suspend rules, calling it a matter of principle.

Turner and Davis, however, said House leaders were playing fast and loose with rules, setting a very bad precedent.

Turner called it “a blatant and intentional attempt to circumvent the rules.”

Davis said, “It’s ironic that we’re here to make laws for people to abide by and we won’t even stand by our own rules.”

Speaker Joe Straus, though, rejected parliamentary objections by Davis and Turner.

I’ve kinda lost track of how many bad precedents have been set this session. What’s one more for the road?

Of course, if after all that the House still managed to screw things up

The Senate has just retired en masse into a closed-door meeting to discuss the resolution the Texas House passed about an hour ago to continue operations at the Texas Department of Transportation.

Word is there could be a problem with the House wording: It may not allow TxDOT to issue the $2 billion in bonds it needs to continue road-building projects.

Big problem that would be.

I’m going to go find a paper bag to breathe into. Talk amongst yourselves.

While I will cling stubbornly to the belief that no special session is in the offing – Governor Perry wasn’t too worked up about the possibility earlier today, I do wish something could have been done to salvage CHIP.

“CHIP is dead,” said State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, a supporter of expanding the program.

Dukes said she was disappointed that her colleagues didn’t make the effort to massage parliamentary rules for CHIP as they did today for a “sunset” safety-net bill that keeps agencies operating.

“They changed the rules for what they desired,” Dukes said. “But no rules were suspended for those children in great need.”

There were bigger obstacles than the rules, or the chubfest, in the way, as Rick Perry was vowing to veto any CHIP expansion legislation that crossed his desk. The only way forward for this is with someone else in the Governor’s mansion. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman about this is beneath the fold. May this be the last post of the 2009 legislative session.

UPDATE: It’s unclear what, if anything, the Senate is going to do about the un-authorized bonds. It’s also unclear if that’s a problem. At least windstorm is a done deal.

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