Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Debbie Riddle

Making divorce harder

I have no idea why anyone would want to do this, but here we are.

Conservative Republican Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said he wants to strengthen families and reinforce the sanctity of marriage by eliminating no-fault divorces, which now allow couples to split amicably with neither legally alleging blame.

“I don’t know if we don’t take our vows as seriously as we used to, but I think getting rid of the no-fault divorce piece of this may make folks concentrate on this a little harder before they enter into that relationship, or stick it out to where they can restore that relationship and the tough times in marriage,” he said.

Krause, who has been married for 14 years, said he wants modern culture to better value the importance of family to ensure a healthy society, and said stable families will result in better outcomes for children.

Under a bill he plans to push in the 2017 legislative session, the state would strike “insupportability” as grounds for divorce. A couple who wants to dissolve their marriage peacefully will have to live separately for three years before filing for divorce. Those opposed to waiting would have to accuse their partners of cruelty or adultery, or allege their partner abandoned them after a year living apart. Other grounds include conviction of a felony or confinement in a mental hospital.

“That’s a terrible idea,” [Cindy Diggs, of Holmes Diggs Eames & Sadler, a Houston law firm that concentrates on divorce and family law,] said.

Doing away with no-fault divorces will enrich divorce lawyers because clients will pay more in fees to come up with reasons to legally justify splitting from their spouse, she said.

“He’s forcing the fight,” she said of Krause’s bill. “Even as a divorce lawyer, I don’t think that’s right. I think you should make divorce easier for those who want it because those who want it are still going to go and file and get it. It’s just going to cost them more and cause their families and their children more strife.”

[…]

Krause proposed the bill in the 2015 legislative session, supported by pastors and Concerned Women for America, a national conservative advocacy group that seeks to weave biblical principals into public policy, both of which argue children in single-parent households are more likely to struggle than their peers.

The bill won a narrow 4-3 bipartisan approval in a legislative committee but failed to reach the floor.

“We are not a church, we are a government,” said Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, during a hearing days before voting against the bill. “When people get married, they get married. They’re adults. … That is really getting in the middle and I’m not so sure it fixes things. I think, if anything, it makes things worse.”

Krause rejects the suggestion that forcing couples to wait out a divorce infringes on their personal freedom.

“They still have every right, whether they’re going to get into that union or not,” Krause said. “But once they do, I don’t think it’s bad for the state to say, ‘Hey, if you’re doing this and you’re entering into this union, let’s make sure you’re very serious about it, knowing the societal benefits that can happen when there’s a happy married couple and knowing the societal concern that we see as a consequence when there’s a proliferation of divorces.”

The bill in question from 2015 was HB454, which did get voted out of committee but never got a vote on the House floor. As the story notes, the divorce rate has been falling nationally and in Texas, so this strikes me as yet another solution in search of a problem. It’s also another mockery of the alleged ideal of “small government”, but that ship sailed a long time ago. I don’t think this bill will get any more traction this session, but you never know. If it does, I bet we see a big spike in the number of divorce filings between the day it passes and the day it goes into effect. I mean hey, if you were headed that direction anyway, may as well get there before the price goes up, right?

Chron overview of HD150

This could be interesting.

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly

The business card for Michael Shawn Kelly, a landscape architect who wants to represent the deep-red suburbs of far north Harris County in the Texas House, touts his conservative values and quotes the late Republican politician Jack Kemp.

The card, however, makes no mention of party affiliation. That is because Kelly is the Democratic nominee for the District 150 seat, one the GOP has held for decades.

With that scarlet D next to his name on the ballot, Kelly faces long odds in trying to defeat Valoree Swanson, who toppled state Rep. Debbie Riddle in the Republican primary by attacking the conservative lawmaker as insufficiently principled.

For Kelly to score the upset Nov. 8, the first-time candidate must find a way to cultivate voters that moves beyond party labels.

“It’s tough for people to jump the fence,” he said. “A lot of our advertising is about giving Republicans permission to vote for a Democrat.”

The district, which sprawls over Tomball, Spring and the Harris County portion of The Woodlands, is politically predictable. In winning seven general elections, Riddle dispatched every Democratic challenger by at least 30 percentage points.

Yet, Kelly, 60, believes he can defeat Swanson, 59, a conservative activist, by persuading a primarily Republican electorate that he can represent it with an independent voice. His strategy is to avoid hot-button social issues while hammering on education spending. He criticizes Republican lawmakers for not giving public schools the tools they need.

“The goal shouldn’t be how to spend less money,” Kelly said. “We should be asking, ‘How educated do we want these kids to be?’ Let’s put a price tag on it and then ask people if it’s worth it.”

One convert is Diane Schumacher, a retired manufacturing executive and lawyer who said she votes “99.9 percent of the time” for Republicans.

“It was an easy decision because he is focused on the right things,” she said. In the district, “people are really looking at him as an individual because his opponent is so far to the right.”

[…]

The race “highlights the importance of the party label in Texas,” Jones said. “It may be that Kelly is closer than Swanson to the median voter in District 150. But it’s likely to hurt him to have ‘Democrat’ next to his name because of the association with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Wendy Davis.”

Donald Trump’s inability to unify the GOP means “this might be the year” that voters spurn straight-ticket ballots, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “But this might not be the district.”

On the surface, there’s nothing to see here. HD150 voted 68-30 for Romney over Obama in 2012. A swing district this ain’t. Kelly’s strategy is finding enough Republicans who don’t care for the Republican candidate, Valoree Swanson, to win. That’s a steep hill to climb, but he has had some success – besides the person you see quoted in the story, he has the endorsements of former State Sen. Jon Lindsay and – this still blows my mind – outgoing Rep. Debbie Riddle herself. He also made a pretty good impression, especially compared to Swanson, at a recent Spring Klein Chamber of Commerce event; see here and here for a report.

Will it work? Well, Romney beat Obama by 25,000 votes in HD15 in 2012, the same margin by which Riddle defeated challenger Brad Neal that year. That’s a lot of people one has to convince to cross over. Still, Democratic State Reps were getting elected in heavily Republican districts as recently as 2008, and the northern parts of Harris County that contains HD150 have undergone a lot of demographic change that favors Democrats. So maybe it’s not quite as lopsided as it was four years ago, maybe the Trump effect will boost Dems and depress Rs, and maybe Kelly’s Republican endorsements will help him. I don’t know that you can get there from here, but maybe it can be a start. Kelly is more conservative than my preference, and he’d likely have a hard time getting party support in a different district or in a countywide race. But he’s a pretty good fit for the district he is in, and Lord knows we’re not going to be competitive in places like HD150 until we have people like Michael Kelly running as and voting for Democratic candidates. So we’ll see how it goes.

Endorsement watch: More State Reps

Part 2:

State Representative, District 135: Jesse A. Ybanez

Consider this an endorsement against Gary Elkins. The Republican incumbent has been in office for 22 years, and his greatest claim to fame is a consistent self-serving advocacy for payday lenders and other shady financial businesses. As the Texas Observer reported in 2014, Elkins owns a chain of payday lending stores and helped create their current model in which they operate as “credit service organizations,” allowing them to evade our state’s anti-usury laws. He made headlines two years ago for working to block statewide regulations that would protect hard-working Texans from being scammed by these sorts of businesses. This defense of exploitive business practices has been the single note that unites his entire political history – the Wall Street Journal documented Elkins’ raison d’etre back in 1999 with an article titled, “Legislator’s Slim Agenda Mirrors His Private Interests.”

What other accomplishments can Elkins tout to round out his two decades in the Legislature? When he met with the editorial board during his last election, Elkins pointed to eliminating lower speed limits at night. Elkins did not meet with the editorial board this year.

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

State Representative, District 137: Gene Wu

“People are tired of dead kids.”

That’s the reason that two-term state Rep. Gene Wu gave the editorial board to explain the political momentum in the state House to fix Texas Child Protective Services. Democrats, like Wu, and Republicans are working together to file bills for the upcoming session that will provide better pay for CPS workers, more money for foster families, and better therapy for kids and drug treatment for parents who need it.

“The vast majority of cases that come to CPS are because of drugs,” Wu said. “Yet we don’t provide drug treatment.”

As a lawyer who takes CPS and juvenile law cases, Wu is an invaluable resource on this issue, and voters should give him a third term in Austin.

I don’t have anything to add to the HD137 race beyond what I’ve already said except to reiterate that Kendall Baker is a fool. As for HD135, Gary Elkins is objectively terrible and should have been turfed a long time ago, but he’s in a Republican district, so that’s easier said than done. HD135 is an interesting case in that it’s one of two districts that were won by the GOP in 2012 that were slightly less Republican than they were in 2008; HD132 is the other, but there’s no Democrat running there this year. I’ll be rooting for Jesse Ybanez, but first let’s see if he can continue that trend.

Here’s Part 3, which I believe brings this to an end.

State Representative, District 147: Garnet F. Coleman

After 25 years in office, Democratic state Rep. Garnet F. Coleman seems to know every inch of his central Houston district, which stretches from Montrose, through downtown, Midtown and the Third Ward before following Interstate 45 south to Beltway 8. He has a particular fondness for the area around Emancipation Park, where he’s worked to protect the historic Dowling Street corridor from being consumed by generic townhouses.

Up in Austin, Coleman has been a key leader on mental health and criminal justice issues, promoting personal recognizance bonds and the diversion courts that help keep people out of jail and connect them with the help they need.

State Representative, District 149: Hubert Vo

State Rep. Hubert Vo can be a soft-spoken advocate for his diverse southwest Houston district that ends at the border between Harris and Fort Bend counties. Sometimes he’s too soft – Vo was deemed “furniture” by Texas Monthly last session for his lackluster participation in the legislative process. But throughout his five terms in office, Vo, 60, has enough important accomplishments on his record – such as creating the International Management District – to justify a return to Austin. He’s been an advocate for economic development and education opportunities, especially vocational training in Alief ISD.

We were also impressed by his political courage during an editorial board meeting in which he pushed back against his opponent’s advocacy of raising the sales tax to lower the property tax burden.

“I believe that if we increase the sales tax it is going to be affecting the low-income families, especially families with kids going to school,” Vo said. “It is not going to be fair.”

State Representative, District 150: Michael Shawn Kelly

Scholars of history know that revolutions have a way of eating their young – even the Republican revolution. First elected in 2002, outgoing state Rep. Debbie Riddle was once both praised and maligned for being the personal embodiment of a hard-right Texas Christian conservative. But somewhere along the way, Riddle’s belief that “free education” and “free health care” came from “the pit of hell” just wasn’t conservative enough for her northwest district, which stretches from the Houston city limits up to The Woodlands and Tomball.

She was defeated in this year’s Republican primary by political activist Valoree Swanson. So how did Swanson boot a longtime incumbent? Political insiders know it’s because Riddle got along with the center-right House Speaker Joe Straus, much to the chagrin of powerbroker and lobbyist Michael Q. Sullivan. During the primary, Swanson was able to paint Riddle as someone who wasn’t sufficiently opposed to Islamic religious law, or Sharia law.

So what does Michael Shawn Kelly, the 60-year-old Democratic candidate for this now-open seat, think of all this?

“I can’t answer without laughing to be quite honest,” Kelly told the editorial board when asked whether Texans should be concerned about Sharia law. “I think it is really something you say to people when you’re trying to get them whipped into a frenzy over a non-issue and not talk about the issues we should be talking about.”

See that same article for my thoughts on HD149 as well. I’ll just add that Rep. Vo is 100% correct to say that a property tax/sales tax swap would be a big win for wealthier folks and an even bigger loser for everyone else. I’m a big fan of Rep. Garnet Coleman, who hits the trifecta of being smart, effective, and very good on the issues. As for HD150, it’s a little hard to believe we won’t have Debbie Riddle to kick around any more, and even harder to believe she could get tossed by primary voters for not being sufficiently unhinged. I’ve heard some rumblings that Swanson hasn’t endeared herself to the non-primary-voting electorate, but this is a very red district, so she has quite a bit of slack to give before she has anything to worry about. In the meantime, I’d say Kelly’s response to that drama is spot on.

2016 primaries: State races

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

Not that Gene Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Transgender activists rally at the Capitol

They’re working for understanding and playing defense.

Elder was one of two dozen transgender Texans and their advocates who rallied outside the Texas Capitol early Monday, just three days after gold medal decathlon winner Bruce Jenner declared, “I am a woman” in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC News.

The Austin gathering came amid battles over the rights of gay, lesbian and transgendered people at the state and local levels. Texas lawmakers in this session have filed more than 30 bills that could restrict LGBT rights, while in Houston a conservative activist is continuing to try to force an election that would bar men “who perceive or express themselves as women” from entering women’s restrooms.

Katrina Stewart, executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas, said as more transgender Americans like Jenner become more visible, the community experiences both more acceptance — and more backlash.

“We’re very hopeful for the Bruce Jenner interview that happened the other day and how that’s going to play out in allowing people to better hear, better be of the mindset to listen to the stories of their neighbors and friends,” said Stewart. “What we want to do is share our stories. We’re not here to make people scared. But that fear shows that they are people listening.”

Members of the transgender community are particularly concerned about a number of House bills that would make it a crime for a transgender person to use a restroom that is contrary to the sex they were assigned at birth.

Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Spring, said she filed her so-called “bathroom bills” in reaction to Houston Mayor Annise Parker successfully pushing for a local ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The so-called “HERO” ordinance originally included language that explicitly would have allowed transgender Houstonians to use bathrooms matching their gender expression; the protections remain but the ordinance now puts the burden on the individual to prove he or she was a victim of discrimination.

“That really opens a door for those who really aren’t transgender, but who are pedophiles. And it makes it dangerous for little girls; it makes it dangerous for women,” Riddle said Monday. “If you don’t care about the safety of children then you might support those kinds of things. But if you care about the safety of children more than you care about political correctness, then you would support the bill.”

Rep. Gilbert Pena, R-Pasadena, has filed two bills that would go even further than Riddle’s, allowing students to sue and receive $2,000 in relief if they identify a student using a bathroom that doesn’t match his or her “biological sex.” The bills would also require school districts to provide alternative bathroom and locker rooms for transgender students.

Pena on Monday refused to discuss his bills with the Chronicle, but an anti-discrimination activist said his proposal was appalling.

“This is sort of the opposite of small government. This is putting monitors in the bathroom,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality. “It’s absolutely immoral to put a bounty on a school child’s head.”

It cannot be emphasized enough that Debbie Riddle is lying through her teeth about bathrooms and menaces. As was the case throughout the entire HERO saga, I am amazed capacity of people who call themselves Christians to lie about this and other aspects of the ordinance. The good news here is that neither her bill nor Rep. Pena’s have received committee hearings, and the deadline for bills to be passed out of committee is rapidly approaching. The main danger beyond that is having them attached to other bills as amendments, so as long as the Lege is in session the danger remains. The Observer has more.

Back to the bathroom wars

Here we go again.

RedEquality

The day Caomhán Ó Raghallaigh began living as a man in June 2012 — “the day I became myself,” he calls it — was a moment of immense personal liberation.

It was also a political opportunity for Ó Raghallaigh, 57, who was born female. Weeks later, with support from his two children and the man he married 30 years ago, he signed up to work for a state representative in Texas’ overwhelmingly conservative Capitol, where he would brush shoulders with lawmakers at a time when he was beginning hormone therapy.

“I said, ‘I am political capital because I’m going to start transitioning right before session begins, and I want to be in the Capitol where they can see it,’” said Ó Raghallaigh, who is now leading an effort against a set of bills that would criminalize people who use public restrooms not designated for their biological sex.

It was a rare chance for a transgender person to gain visibility in state government. Despite recent political gains for the Texas lesbian, gay and bisexual community — including a pending repeal of the state’s same-sex marriage ban, now in federal appeals court — transgender advocates say they have struggled to gain similar acceptance.

Two bills filed this year by state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, would make it a crime to enter a public restroom or locker room not designated for a person’s biological sex at birth. And two more filed by state Rep. Gilbert Peña, R-Pasadena, would permit a bystander to sue a transgender person who used a prohibited bathroom for up to $2,000, in addition to compensation for “mental anguish.” The legislation, Ó Raghallaigh says, would effectively put a bounty on his head for trying to use the bathroom that matches his gender identity.

Social conservatives say the bills, which have been referred to the House State Affairs Committee, are designed to protect people from assault in public restrooms.

Just remember that these social conservatives are lying through their teeth about the alleged “menace” of letting people use the bathroom. Also, the vile Steven Hotze spends way, way, way more time thinking about other people’s sexual activities and bathroom habits than normal people do. You tell me who the “pervert” is. I don’t even know what else there is to say.

The backlash has begun

Item one.

RedEquality

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked the state Supreme Court to void a marriage license issued to two Austin women who became the first same-sex couple to legally wed in the state.

Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, who have been together for 30 years, said their vows on Thursday after state District Judge David Wahlberg ordered the Travis County clerk to issue them a marriage license. Later that day, the Texas Supreme Court put a temporary hold on Wahlberg’s order. Paxton is now asking the court to overturn the order and declare the couple’s marriage license void.

Despite Texas’ constitutional ban on marriages between same-sex couples, Wahlberg ordered the license be issued to Goodfriend and Bryant under special circumstances because Goodfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year.

Although Wahlberg’s court order was specific to the Austin couple, Paxton asked the court on Friday to to overturn the order to “avoid the legal chaos” that could arise if county clerks “mistakenly rely” on the order and begin granting marriage licenses to other same-sex couples.

“If that occurred, the harm to the couples, state officials, and the general public would be difficult if not impossible to undo,” Paxton wrote in a petition filed with the Supreme Court.

See here for the background, and here for the AG’s petition. This move was to be expected. As long as the issue is still being litigated at the federal level, it’s hard to imagine the AG not taking action in response to Friday’s historic announcement. One can certainly amount the potential for chaos, though Travis County officials seem to have been pretty restrained overall, and I seriously doubt Paxton really cares about the “harm” that may befall any couples. I’d be interested in hearing the lawyers’ views on his petition, because the expert the Trib consulted had some doubts.

Alexandra Albright, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said she was unsure whether the attorney general has the standing to invalidate a marriage license.

“As far as bringing a lawsuit to invalidate, it sounds like a stretch,” Albright said. Because the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the issue, she added it’s unlikely the Texas high court will quickly rule on Paxton’s petition.

“I don’t think they see any reason to hurry up and try to issue an opinion before the U.S. Supreme Court decides,” Albright said.

Any comment on that. In the meantime, there’s Item Two.

State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, filed legislation Friday afternoon that would make the Texas secretary of state’s office the sole distributor of marriage licenses. Couples looking to marry currently obtain marriage licenses from individual county clerk’s offices.

Perry said his bill is intended to keep county clerks from issuing marriage licenses “that do not conform to state law.”

[…]

“Yesterday, Travis County officials acted in direct conflict with the Texas Constitution,” Perry said in a statement. “[Senate Bill] 673 ensures rule of law is maintained and the Texas Constitution is protected.”

State Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, has filed a companion bill in the House.

Seems like more than a bit of an overreaction to something that will very likely be a moot point by the end of the year, wouldn’t you say? I have a hard time seeing this as anything but a prelude to some Roy Moore-style defiance of the coming SCOTUS ruling. I mean, as long as county clerks can give out marriage licenses, then it only takes one Dana deBeauvoir to open the floodgates for every gay couple in the state. On the other hand, if you centralize that power and make only one official – one official who serves at the pleasure of the Governor – accountable, well, you can see the potential for chaos that this can cause. Do you think these guys, from Abbott to Paxton to Charles Perry and Cecil Bell, realize that forty years from now they’re going to be their generation’s George Wallace and Bull Connor? I’m pretty sure they don’t.

And finally, Item Three:

From the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” Department, I think this may be my favorite* new crime proposed yet in 2015: Texas state Rep. Debbie Riddle has filed legislation making it a Class A misdemeanor for a transgendered person to use the restroom of their adopted gender, even after reassignment surgery, and a state jail felony for a building manager to allow them to do so.

Indeed, the bill goes beyond transgendered people to criminalize anyone entering the restroom of the opposite gender with three exceptions: if they enter for custodial purposes, to give medical attention, or accompanying a minor under eight years old. I can think of more than one instance in my life where I would have committed a Class A misdemeanor under this provision, how about you?

My wife suggested that many women may have violated this proposed law at nightclubs or public events because the lines to women’s restrooms are always quite long and the stalls in the men’s room are frequently empty.

Leave it to The Riddler to kick things up a notch. It turns out that this isn’t just her bright idea – really, she isn’t smart enough to think of something like this – but it’s part of a national campaign being pushed in state legislatures everywhere by the usual assortments of crooks and ne’er do wells. If that surprises you, you really haven’t been paying close enough attention.

Endorsement watch: State Reps and Sam Houston

The Chron made its State House endorsements in two parts. The highlight from Part One was a couple of key races.

Susan Criss

Susan Criss

District 23: Susan Criss

In one of the few competitive contests, Democrat Susan Criss and Republican Wayne Faircloth are battling to replace retiring Democratic state Rep. Craig Eiland in a district that includes all of Galveston County and part of Chambers County. Criss, a former judge and prosecutor, is supported by trial lawyers, while Faircloth, an insurance agent, is backed by insurance companies, who are not much loved in a region that had problems with them following Hurricane Ike in 2008. Faircloth’s campaign comes right out of the Republican textbook – less regulation and secure the border. Criss, 53, wants to restore all education funding cut in 2011’s budget crunch so that public school students are not short-changed. She says big corporations must pay their fair share of taxes so average people don’t have to pay more. She wants the proposed “Ike Dike” to protect against future storms so people won’t lose their homes again. And she wants insurance companies to treat people fairly. We agree, so we endorse Susan Criss for District 23.

District 149: Hubert Vo

Another of the rare competitive races pits longtime state Rep. Hubert Vo against Republican Al Hoang, 38, in a battle between two Vietnamese immigrants who share a culture but not political philosophies. Vo, 58, is a moderate Democrat who concentrates on bread-and-butter issues while Hoang, a former Houston city councilman, tends to echo conservative bromides. Hoang says he reflects the true values of the Vietnamese community, which makes up about 20 percent of the district that stretches from Alief to the Energy Corridor on Interstate 10. The low-key Vo has a list of modest accomplishments, including creation of the International Management District and sponsoring legislation that helped bring private space company SpaceX to Texas. He is a strong supporter of public education and wants the state to accept the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act. Buried in Hoang’s rhetoric about abortion, the death penalty and other red meat issues are a few good ideas. But the Legislature has enough members who think pushing hot political buttons is good policy, so we endorse Hubert Vo for a sixth term.

Wise choices if you ask me, obviously. Susan Criss also picked up an endorsement from Texas Parent PAC, which ought to help. The main thing that will help here is elevated turnout, to overcome the red lean of the district. My interview with Susan Criss is here in case you missed it. By the way, it was interesting to see the Chron venture outside Harris County, making recommendations in Galveston, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. I couldn’t swear to this, but my recollection is that this has not been their usual habit. Am I wrong about that?

Round Two was mostly about races featuring incumbents, all here in Harris and all but two getting the Chron’s nod. Those two races, plus one of the open seat races of interest:

District 132: Mike Schofield

Republican lawyer Mike Schofield, 50, handled legislative matters for Rick Perry for six sessions, which gives him an understanding of the lawmaking process that Democrat Luis Lopez does not have. Lopez, 25, has a compelling story: He came from Mexico as a child and has gone on to become a citizen, accountant and business owner. But Schofield can more immediately help the far west Houston district that includes Katy and the Cy-Fair area deal with the explosive growth expected there, so we endorse him.

District 135: No endorsement

As Republican incumbent Gary Elkins tells it, his biggest accomplishment during 20 years in the Legislature was the elimination of slower speed limits at night. His other unfortunate claim to fame was in 2011 when he disgraced the House by defending the payday lending business against state regulation in a massive conflict of interest – he himself owns payday lender businesses.

Elkins, 59, told us he will fight against overregulation, but couldn’t give any specifics. He couldn’t remember how many bills he filed last session or the details of a key constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot. Yet, this hapless spouter of Republican clichés keeps getting re-elected in the northwest suburban district that includes Jersey Village and the Cy-Fair area. His opponent, Democrat Moiz Abbas, 60, is a good guy and smart, but we haven’t seen much of a campaign, so we’ll make no endorsement.

District 150: Amy Perez

Incumbent Debbie Riddle, 65, is seeking a seventh term in the House where she is a dependable conservative vote with a bad habit of sticking her foot in her mouth. She is best known for her absurd – and telling – rant that free education “comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.” She also flamed out on CNN claiming “terror babies” were being born in the U.S. In contrast, Democrat Amy Perez is a history teacher in a local district and dedicated to public education and fully knows its problems. Once, she won teacher of the year in a local district, then got laid off because funds for social studies ran out. Perez, 29, has no political experience, but is super smart and might teach the Legislature something about education. In the district that goes from the Woodlands south to FM 1960 and includes Spring, it’s time for a change. We endorse Amy Perez.

Endorsing opponents to The Riddler is old hat for the Chron by now. She is the worst, after all. Here’s a brief Q&A from a neighborhood paper with Perez and Riddle if you want to know more. Elkins is right up there – or down there, I suppose – with Riddle, and he’s in a district that has a chance of being competitive before the next round of redistricting. Not really sure what their hangup was with Moiz Abbas, but whatever. As for HD132, another district that is trending the right way, I’d say that assuming Mike Scofield will use that experience he has to actually help his district may be assuming facts not in evidence.

Moving elsewhere, Sam Houston gets two more endorsements. Here’s the DMN:

Serious legal issues dogging Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton should rule him out for consideration to be the next attorney general of Texas. It’s fortunate for voters that there’s a solid alternative in a Houston attorney whose name isn’t easy to forget.

Career litigator Sam Houston, a Democrat, is making his second run for office, having been on the ballot in 2008 in an unsuccessful run for the Supreme Court of Texas.

This newspaper recommended Houston for office then and recommends him now, on the strength of his legal experience and ideas for the office.

Paxton’s impaired candidacy stems from his written admission that he broke state law by failing to register with the State Securities Board even though he solicited paying clients for a financial services firm that paid him a 30 percent cut. It wasn’t a one-time slipup on Paxton’s part. The Securities Board’s civil complaint against him cites solicitations from 2004, 2005 and 2012.

As if to make the situation vanish, Paxton, 51, a veteran lawmaker from McKinney, declined to contest the disciplinary order and paid a $1,000 fine in May. But the matter lives on. A complaint has been filed with the Travis County district attorney’s office, which has postponed any decision on taking the matter to a grand jury until after the election. That raises the possibility of felony charges against a sitting attorney general, the state’s chief law enforcement officer. Voters should not invite that kind of embarrassment for Texas.

And here’s the Express News:

We strongly urge Texans to elect Democrat Sam Houston, a native of Colorado City who has practiced law in Houston for 26 years.

Houston faces Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton, a McKinney lawyer. The Express-News reported that Paxton “admitted in May to referring clients to a North Texas investment firm without registering with state authorities as required by law. The Texas State Securities Board reprimanded Paxton and fined him $1,000, concluding that he violated state securities law in 2004, 2005 and 2012.”

The episode was a dominant theme for Paxton’s GOP primary runoff opponent and is being emphasized by Democrats this fall. A watchdog group filed a complaint with the Travis County district attorney’s office. Travis County prosecutors wisely will not consider the complaint prior to the Nov. 4 election.

Whether the issue results in a criminal investigation or not, the case raises disturbing ethical questions about Paxton. We believe voters should take this blemish on Paxton’s record seriously as they consider who should be the state’s top lawyer.

At this point we’re just waiting for the Chron to make it a clean sweep. They should have a pretty good idea of what the arguments are by now.

Endorsement watch: Kim Ogg for DA

The Chronicle gives a ringing endorsement to Kim Ogg in the Democratic primary for District Attorney.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Ogg has experience as a board-certified felony prosecutor, but she also has the broad view that comes from serving as director of Houston’s first anti-gang task force. After overseeing a 40 percent drop in gang violence, Ogg went to work as executive director of Crime Stoppers, where she helped unite community resources to solve thousands of unsolved crimes. With this experience, Ogg knows that it isn’t merely about racking up prosecutions but setting countywide policy that is directly connected to reducing crime. She points to creative use of civil law to prevent crime before it happens. Harris County has used nuisance injunctions to keep gang members away from schools and apartments, and Ogg wants to expand that strategy to fight people whose businesses act as fronts for sex trafficking.

[…]

Ogg also will put people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana where they belong: along our bayous performing community service, rather than in jail at taxpayer expense.

But like the heroine in a bad horror movie sequel, Ogg has to defeat a sad soul who keeps coming back: Lloyd Wayne Oliver. Just when you thought it was safe to vote in the Democratic primary, he’s on the ballot again for the free publicity. Primary voters should give Oliver the thrashing he deserves for making a mockery of our elections. And they should give Ogg a place in the general election come November.

We all know what the stakes are here. Either we nominate Kim Ogg and have ourselves a real candidate to support who can drive a real debate about the DA’s office and its direction, or we punt the race for the second time in two years. Given that we’re basically going to punt the County Judge race, since the only qualified candidate on the ballot is incumbent Judge Ed Emmett, that’s a lot of dead weight at the top of the county ticket. While I don’t think that will be a drag on Wendy Davis and the rest of the statewide ticket, it certainly won’t help. It’s up to Ogg and her team to do the heavy lifting of voter outreach, but we can do our part as well. Vote for Kim Ogg, and tell everyone you know to vote for Kim Ogg.

On the same page, the Chron did a series of endorsements in contested House primaries. Of interest to us:

District 131: Alma Allen

We endorse Allen, the incumbent, because of her familiarity with the Legislature and her 10 years of seniority there, and because her position on the education committee and long history as a school principal enable her to promote better state funding for public schools. Those serve her south Houston district well. But her energetic challenger, 27-year-old Azuwuike “Ike” Okorafor, is a promising newcomer. We hope to see him run for other area offices.

District 145: Carol Alvarado

In the House, Alvarado has a strong record of fighting for Democratic causes, such as education funding, women’s health and Medicaid expansion, without alienating the Republican colleagues she needs to get things done. She and her staff are notably visible and accessible, providing a high degree of constituent services in a heavily Hispanic district that stretches from part of the Houston Heights southeast to Beltway 8. She’s the clear choice in this race.

No surprises in either one, and I too would like to see Azuwuike Okorafor run for something else if he doesn’t win this time. On the Republican side, they endorsed Chuck Maricle in HD129, Ann Hodges in HD132, Rep. Sarah Davis in HD134, and Rep. Debbie Riddle in HD150. Maricle was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, the only Republican who screened with them for this primary; Hodges was endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC; Rep. Davis was endorsed by Equality Texas, the first Republican to get their recommendation. So they have that going for them.

Statement from Jim Henley

On Sunday afternoon, I received the following statement from Jim Henley, who submitted his resignation as HCDE Trustee earlier this year:

JimHenley

I submitted my resignation as Trustee of The Harris County Department of Education in January of 2013. The Texas Constitution requires that I remain in office until the HCDE Board of Trustees appoints my successor.

I was elected in November 2008 to a six year term which will end in December of 2014. I have submitted to the board the name of a person who is uniquely qualified to complete my term, as provided by the law regarding the resignation of trustees. The board is not bound by my nomination.

My most significant contribution as a trustee was in leading the effort for an independent performance review of HCDE. It was the first such review in the recent history of the department. The review found HCDE to be effective and efficient in most of its services, while making recommendations for improvement in several areas.

While HCDE has been reluctant to embrace several of these essential recommendations, the department remains a vital resource to the twenty six independent school districts in Harris County. The current effort by opponents of public education (House Bill 945) to eliminate HCDE would decrease services to school districts while increasing their need to raise taxes. I urge the defeat of this ill-advised legislation.

The Texas Constitution prohibits trustees from being employed in public education. I have a passion for teaching and plan to return to the classroom as well as enjoy some time working on my farm. I am grateful for the trust the voters of Harris County bestowed upon me. I hope my conduct in elective office has been an example of honest and ethical public service.

Jim Henley

Trustee Position 7, At Large HCDE

See here and here for the background on HB945, which was heard in the Public Education committee on April 16 but has not yet come up for a vote in that committee. If I’m reading the Dates of Interest page correctly, if that bill isn’t reported out of committee – that is, if it hasn’t been voted out of committee – by next Monday, May 6, it’s too late for it to be voted on by the whole House this session. As we know, such deadlines are not necessarily the last word in these matters, but it is an obstacle. Keep an eye on the clock. In any event, my thanks again to Henley for his service, and I look forward to hearing who he has in mind as a successor.

Riddle wants to abolish the HCDE

From Big Jolly:

State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-150) filed HB945 [last] week. If enacted, it would abolish the Harris County Department of Education, transferring control of the assets to the Harris County Commissioners Court, and giving the commissioners one year to liquidate them.

The brains behind this, if you can call them that, is former member Michael Wolfe, who was thankfully unelected last year after a thoroughly undistinguished term in office. I can see an argument for abolishing the HCDE as an elected office – it’s basically the same argument for abolishing the SBOE as an elected office, in that very few people understand its function and the districts are far too large for campaigning to have any effect on electoral outcomes – but where the functions of the SBOE could reasonably be assumed by the Legislature and the Texas Education Agency, there really isn’t anything in the county to do what the HCDE does. (If you need a reminder of what the HCDE does, see the Chron’s November endorsement editorial or this document about the HCDE and this effort to eradicate it; you could also listen to one of my interviews from last year.) A bill to create an appointed board might be worth debating, though no less politically motivated given the shift on the board to a Democratic majority, but this is irresponsible. It won’t save any money, and it will deprive schools, teachers, and districts of needed services. I expect this bill is an underdog to pass, but someone in the Harris County Democratic delegation needs to keep an eye on it.

On encouraging jury service

District Clerk Chris Daniel notes that many people do not get paid when they take off work to serve on jury duty, and that therefore they generally choose to ignore their summonses.

District Clerk Chris Daniel

During the upcoming session, the state Legislature can address this issue and ensure that jury pools include a true cross-section of county residents by passing a law allowing businesses that pay workers during jury service to receive a discount on the state business margins tax.

State law prohibits companies from firing workers who are absent due to jury service. But it does not require employers to pay workers – only five states impose such a requirement.

But there are ways for government, without being intrusive, to provide businesses with incentives to pay workers absent because of jury service. Lawmakers will consider passing House Bill 433, which would allow employers to claim a 15 percent discount when calculating their state margins taxes if they pay workers who are out for jury service.

This law would have far-reaching benefits:

  • More people, including low-wage employees, would appear for jury service.
  • The public likely would have increased confidence in the judicial system knowing that a more representative cross-section of society was serving on juries.
  • Taxpayers would save money because the District Clerk’s Office would mail tens of thousands fewer jury notices.
  • With more people appearing for jury service, residents would be called to serve less often.

Here’s HB433, authored by Daniel’s co-writer, Rep. Debbie Riddle. If I’m reading the text of the bill correctly, a company can apply for the credit for each day on which an employee served jury duty if the employee was paid for that day. The bill directs the Comptroller to come up with rules for how this will be implemented, so it’s a little hard to fully evaluate this. My first thought is that there ought to be some limitation on what kind of company can apply for this credit, lest big businesses that have routinely paid their salaried employees when they do jury service apply for the credits. It’ll be interesting to see what the fiscal note is for this as well. Beyond that, it seems like a reasonable idea to solve a legitimate problem, but more details are needed before I can say with any confidence whether this is a good and workable solution or not.

The dog that hasn’t barked yet

The most dispensible member of the Harris County legislative caucus hasn’t done what she normally does yet.

Riddle me this, Batman

Camping out in the Texas Capitol to ensure a prime designation for your legislation on illegal immigration? That’s so 2011.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle braved a cold, creepy-noise-filled Capitol two years ago in part to obtain a priority bill number for her measure to create the offense of “criminal trespass by alien,” filed second only to her voter ID bill.

She also filed bills last session to require school districts to determine whether students were citizens upon enrollment, crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, nudge state agencies to tally the costs of serving people not legally in Texas and impose criminal penalties on businesses employing workers who were illegally in the country – except for maids and gardeners.

This year, the Tomball Republican has yet to file an immigration bill, although she hasn’t ruled it out.

[…]

Riddle also has encountered the march of events, received feedback from her constituents and done a bit more research.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of Arizona’s get-tough bill on illegal immigration, and Riddle said she’s looking at what might still be allowed in the wake of that ruling.

The bill requiring state agencies to tally the cost of services to immigrants here illegally? Riddle said agencies already keep tabs on that, which she didn’t know before filing the measure last time.

As for criminal sanctions for businesses, Riddle said local employers wanted to do the right thing but that they could get in trouble for mistakenly firing someone they believe is here illegally.

Likewise, her local school superintendents said it would be a logistical nightmare to try to track students’ citizenship. Besides, she said, a test was done in one large district that found most children were born here.

There’s little point in trying to understand the motivations of someone like Debbie Riddle, who is an awful person that – to put it gently – would have difficulty on “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” Author Peggy Fikac doesn’t say in her column, but it would not surprise me if a bit of arm-twisting had been applied to Riddle behind the scenes by the likes of the Texas Association of Business and Rick Perry. If so, I can only assume such threats would have had to do with the prospects of any other legislation she might file or care about, since there’s no reason to take any kind of electoral threat over the immigration issue from TAB seriously. The next time they go after a Republican for being an immigration apostate will be the first time they do so. I have no evidence to back my speculation here so I certainly could be wrong, it’s just that I have a hard time believing someone like Riddle would ever be swayed by silly things like objective evidence. Whatever the case, the less Riddle in 2013, the better.

Interview with Brad Neal

Brad Neal

Also up in the northern parts of Harris County is HD150, home of the notorious Rep. Debbie Riddle, for whom I trust no introduction is necessary, though this is a good start if you need it. Opposing The Riddler for a third time is Brad Neal, whom I interviewed in 2010 after not having the chance to meet him in 2008. Neal is an East Texas native and a veteran of the Marine Corps who holds a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M. He lives in Spring and works for an oil and gas equipment supplier. Here’s what we talked about:

Brad Neal MP3

You can still find a list of all interviews I did for this primary cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page and my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page, which I now need to update to include fall candidate information. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

What radicals?

I was reading this Patricia Kilday Hart column about how nobody outside Texas paid attention to the sonogram bill until the Virginia brouhaha and the Doonesbury series, which is a good albeit frustrating read, when I came across this bit that was frustrating for an entirely different reason:

In the Texas Legislature, votes like Davis’ – outside party lines – are increasingly rare, according to research conducted by Dr. Mark Jones of Rice University’s Baker Institute.

Jones has data to prove what most of us know by gut instinct: The Texas Legislature has become a more polarized institution in recent decades.

In the past, lawmakers of both parties would overlap on the conservative-liberal spectrum. Now, both parties are dominated by their extremist wings. Moderate Republicans oppose ideologically charged issues like the sonogram bill “at their peril,” Jones says.

Oh, for Pete’s sake. Please, Professor Jones, tell me who these people are that have radicalized the Democratic Party. I mean, I don’t know who you talk to, but I know an awful lot of folks who will laugh in your face if you suggest the Democratic Party has moved appreciably to the left in recent years. Tell me also what positions the Democratic Party has taken that are noticeably more extreme than they used to be, and what legislation they have been pushing to further those radical ends.

These questions are easy to answer for the Republican Party. For who the radicals are, start with Dan Patrick, Debbie Riddle, Wayne Christian, and most of the people that got elected in the 2010 wave. Oh, and Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, Greg Abbott, and now Susan Combs, too. Just compare the David Dewhurst who is running for US Senate to the one who presided over the Texas Senate in 2003, as a for-instance. The GOP as a whole has gone from a position of generally opposing abortion to a full-fledged attack on birth control and family planning, and from a position of generally supporting lower taxes and fewer regulations to opposing any tax increase on anything for any purpose, pushing huge tax cuts for the wealthy, cutting public education, and seeking to end Medicare. There’s quite a bit of polling data to suggest that they are sprinting towards a cliff by embracing these more radicalized stances, but even Republicans with a mostly moderate history are doing so because it’s what their base is demanding and they fear their primaries more than they fear their Novembers.

My point is there’s just no comparison. The Democratic Party has moved left on some things, most notably marriage equality, but it’s been a gradual shift that’s in line with previously held views on civil rights, and more to the point it’s consistent with national polling. The Republicans have moved way, way more to the right, and it’s happened almost entirely in the last two years, despite a plethora of polling evidence that should warn them against it. The “both sides do it” trope is ludicrous on its face. Why is this so hard to recognize?

Chron profile of Rep. Hernandez Luna

Good story.

State Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna stood before the House on the afternoon of May 9, hours after lawmakers passed the controversial “sanctuary city” bill, and started reading from a prepared statement, her eyes downcast.

“I know House Bill 12 already passed, and in the long run there is nothing that could have been done about its passage,” she said.

But still, she said, she had something to say. And then, in a halting and teary speech, Hernandez Luna, D-Houston, described what life is like as an illegal immigrant.

She knows, she said, because she lived it.

“Immigration and all that it encompasses is very personal for me because I was an undocumented immigrant,” Hernandez Luna said. “You may prefer to use the word illegal alien, but I’m not an alien. I am not a problem that must be handled. I’m a human — a person standing before you now as a representative for the Texas House.”

With her roughly five-minute speech, the 32-year-old lawyer and lawmaker did what some would consider crazy in the current political climate. She tried to put a human face – her own face – on the illegal immigration issue.

“I believe they have a perception of what an undocumented immigrant should be, and I don’t fit in that,” she said in a recent interview. “And that’s why I felt it was important to share my story and put a face on the issue, and let people know we’re not just talking about criminals here who need to be deported.”

You really need to hear Rep. Hernandez Luna give the speech to get its full impact. I shared this on Facebook before, here it is now:

By the way, the “sanctuary cities” bill has been refiled for the special session, though as yet it’s not on the call. Two things to add to the Chron story: One, despite what it says I hope Rep. Hernandez Luna does have aspirations for higher office some day. There’s never enough people like her in office at any level. And two, screw Debbie Riddle and her condescension. A hundred years ago, Riddle’s spiritual ancestors were arguing that we had to “defend the borders” against the menace of too many Italian and Irish immigrants. Same crap, different century. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now. This Irish Italian stands with Rep. Hernandez Luna.

Hopefully, the “sanctuary cities” bill will be the end of the anti-immigrant crap

The Statesman offers a little hope.

The controversial “sanctuary cities” bill received final passage in the Texas House on Tuesday and was on its way to the Senate, but most other immigration measures introduced in the House this session appear destined for the recycling bin.

The House has reached the point in the session where any bill that has been left pending in committee — like almost all 43 immigration-related bills that have been filed — will not meet the deadline to be scheduled for a floor debate. Although legislation can be revived until the end of the session May 30, it becomes more difficult with each passing day.

[…]

Aside from HB 12, the only other immigration bill that is expected to be debated calls for employers to check a potential employee’s immigration status through E-verify, an online verification program. But that bill carries no criminal penalties for not doing the check. Even opponents of efforts to restrict illegal immigration call the bill innocuous.

I sure hope that’s true, but as long as Leo Berman and Debbie Riddle are there to try to attach their vicious bills as amendments, and as long as the Republican caucus continues to vote in lockstep, then there’s no room to relax. I have confidence the Democrats will fight against these efforts, but their numbers mean they can only do so much. If anything happens, it’s on the Republicans.

Republican legislators to support Republican legislation

That’s the takeaway from this story.

The Hispanic Republican Conference has thrown its weight behind the controversial voter ID legislation slated to hit the House floor next week. In a statement released today, the caucus said the issue is essential to integrity at the ballot box and that its overwhelming support by the public indicates change is necessary.

The legislation would require voters to present a form of approved identification, like a state-issued driver’s license or concealed handgun license, in order to cast a ballot.

“To ensure the integrity of our election process, I am supporting the Voter ID bill along with other bills to ensure that candidates reside in their districts, to strengthen our voter registration system, [and] to protect military voter access to Texas elections,” state Rep. John V. Garza, R-San Antonio, said in a statement. Garza and Reps. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg; Raul Torres, R-Corpus Christi; Dee Margo, R-El Paso; Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville; and Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, are the conference’s charter members.

What did you expect? They’re Republicans, and this is a top Republican priority. It would be news if any of them had called voter ID legislation the crock of bull that it is. It’s also no coincidence that all of them will stand to benefit from the suppressed turnout among Hispanic voters that this legislation will lead to.

The announcement comes just a week after the original members, minus Gonzales, issued a fiery statement calling on Washington to overhaul the country’s immigration policies, alleging the current system promotes discrimination and produces “a class of vulnerable persons.”

Members also said last week they would not support state legislation some Republican members have proposed that would strip children of undocumented immigrants of certain entitlements.

Good for them, but this is a meaningless gesture. They still support the “sanctuary cities” bill and they have had nothing to say about the hateful legislation that the likes of Debbie Riddle and Leo Berman have been putting forth. But again, as long as they think of people like Berman as being “earnest and sincere” instead of dangerous and deranged, what do you expect? What I expect is that they’ll be about as effective as Bill Hammond and the Texas Association of Business have been at moderating or stopping anti-immigrant bills they don’t like, which is to say not effective at all.

The cost to cities of being anti-immigrant

The Center for American Progress has a new report out called The High Price of Local Immigration Enforcement that tracks how much various anti-immigrant ordinances in cities like Hazelton, PA, and Farmers Branch have cost them. Most of those costs have been related to litigation, as they have had to defend themselves against multiple lawsuits, though they have also seen their tax bases erode. As someone who’s been following the Farmers Branch story since 2006, this was all familiar to me, but just to bring everyone up to speed, here’s the bit about where Farmers Branch stands now from the full report.

The city was hit with four separate lawsuits, including one from merchants claiming that the English-only provision had hurt their businesses. The lawsuits were eventually combined. In January 2007, after a court temporarily blocked implementation of the Farmers Branch law pending the outcome of the lawsuits, the city council repealed the original rental law and replaced it with a similar one drafted by [anti-immigrant activist Kris] Kobach that made adjustments for families of mixed immigration or citizenship status.

That ordinance was approved by voters in a May election but was declared unconstitutional a year later by a federal court on the grounds that it violated the federal supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, similar to the Hazleton, Pennsylvania, case. Undeterred, the city council passed another Kobach-authored ordinance in January, 2008, that would require all renters of apartments and houses to pay a $5 fee and state their legal status in their application for an occupancy license, thus removing landlords from the verification process.

The third ordinance also was declared unconstitutional by a federal court in April, 2010. Among its findings, the court noted that the Farmers Branch ordinance applies federal immigration classifications for purposes not authorized or contemplated by federal law. “As a result, the ordinance creates an additional restriction on alien residence in the City. The direct regulation of private contract for shelter based on inapplicable federal classifications constitutes an impermissible regulation of immigration,” the court stated. Farmers Branch then followed the path of Hazleton by asking an appellate court to overturn the lower court’s rejection of its immigration control ordinance. The case is now pending before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

All of this has cost Farmers Branch $4 million, with more to come as the current case proceeds. Read the report for all the details.

What this report doesn’t explore, unfortunately, is the potential cost to cities and the state of the various anti-immigrant bills that are pending in the Texas Legislature. I presume that the first thing that will happen after some form of one of Debbie Riddle’s bills is signed into law that Texas will be subject to similar litigation as Arizona. Even if you take lawsuits out of the equation, the so-called “sanctuary city” bills are designed to force local law enforcement agencies to do the work of immigration officials at the risk of losing some state funds, but no funding mechanism is provided to compensate them for that extra work. What would an honest fiscal note for these bills look like? Those are the questions I’d like to see addressed right now.

If you thought voter ID was bad…

Wait till you see what comes next.

State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has made national headlines for his “birther” bill that would require a candidate for president or vice president of the U.S. to show proof of natural-born citizenship to be placed on the ballot in Texas. He has also filed proposed legislation designed to provoke a legal challenge to the 14th Amendment, which bestows citizenship on anyone born in the U.S., regardless of the status of the child’s parents. House Bill 292, if passed, would prevent a county’s local registrar from issuing a birth certificate to a child born to undocumented immigrants in Texas.

“Instead, they will be given a notice of birth, with instructions to take it to their own consulate or embassy to get citizenship papers or a birth certificate from the country of their parents,” Berman said, explaining his bill. “If it passes, we expect to be sued immediately, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for — we want to be sued in federal court so that federal judges will finally read the 14th Amendment.” After that, he said, it’ll only be a matter of time before the federal government realizes the amendment was ratified in 1868 only for those children born in the U.S. to black slaves.

Berman has also authored a bill — HB 294 — that would ban undocumented immigrants from suing legal Texans. They could not seek “equitable relief as a counter claimant or a cross claimant,” according to the legislation.

“If you have an accident with a car driven by an illegal alien, you are going to pay for your own car. But if you hit them, they are going to get an attorney, an abogado, and they are going to try and sue you for everything you’re worth,” he said. “I have asked several lawyers, and they said it is constitutional.”

[…]

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, has drawn the ire of Hispanic Democrats, educators and others for her proposed legislation — HB 22 — that would mandate that public schools keep track of the immigration status of students by requiring that they submit a copy of their birth certificates or other documents indicating their residency status “for inspection” by school officials at the time of enrollment. The bill also requires school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to submit information on the number of students enrolled in bilingual education or special language programs, and to “identify and analyze any impact on the standard or quality of education provided to students who are citizens that may occur as a result.”

Critics have argued the requirement would be an unfunded mandate — the bête noire of conservative lawmakers opposed to many federal mandates — and that preventing the education of any child in Texas is inherently unconstitutional.

[…]

HB 21, also filed by Riddle, would require that state agencies report the costs of providing benefits to undocumented immigrants. Local governmental entities that receive state grants would also be required to submit that information to the grant provider.

State Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has filed legislation that targets legal aliens who are requesting indigent care. HB 655, if passed, would offer counties the option of adopting a policy that would consider the income of a legal alien’s sponsor if that alien applied for indigent care. A sponsored alien is one who is admitted into the country legally after an affidavit of support. The sponsor’s spouse’s income could also be included in the determination of an alien’s eligibility for indigent care.

Boy, sure is a good thing Aaron Pena became a Republican so he could be a “moderating influence” on these guys. I just know they can’t wait to be persuaded by his unassailable logic.

You must obey these laws, but not those laws

Here’s a Chronicle story profiling EPA regional administrator Al Armendariz:

That the EPA is picking on Texas, a favorite refrain of the politicians, is an “unfortunate characterization” because the agency works with the state on many issues, ranging from oil spills to clean water for impoverished communities along the Mexican border, Armendariz said in a recent interview at his office.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the elected officials — the governor and the attorney general (Greg Abbott) – see some value in fighting the federal government for their own sake. They’re fermenting the disagreements we see. It’s bad public policy. It’s bad for permit holders. And it creates uncertainty.”

Armendariz insists that anyone in his position would be taking the same steps he has. He notes that Richard Greene, the Bush appointee who proceeded him as the EPA’s regional administrator for Texas and four adjacent states, sent “strong letters” to the TCEQ about problems with aspects of its permitting program. Armendariz later determined that roughly 130 refineries, chemical plants and factories with so-called flexible permits needed to bring them into compliance with federal law.

“The steps we’re taking are required by law,” he said. “What people are disagreeing with is the Clean Air Act, as written by Congress. What they don’t like is how the law is written.”

And here’s an Express News story about “sanctuary cities” and the legislation that will be taken up to deal with it.

Several, including one by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would deny state grants to cities that don’t enforce immigration laws. Several similar bills have been filed in the House, including one by state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball. Riddle also filed a bill that would allow police to arrest illegal immigrants on trespassing charges.

[Mayor Raul] Reyes said that would put more burdens on cities like El Cenizo.

“They should be helping communities like El Cenizo,” he said. “We don’t have the economic means to hire personnel.”

Bennett Sandlin, the executive director of the Texas Municipal League, agreed with Reyes. It’s almost unheard of for city councils to tell police not to ask about immigration status, Sandlin said; most policies are set by police departments.

And he said the Legislature shouldn’t be interfering with police chiefs. On top of that, Sandlin said, requiring police to enforce immigration laws would be an added financial burden in the midst of budget shortfalls.

“In a perfect world we’d have the state and federal money to enforce immigration statutes,” he said. “But right now we’re bare to the bone just locking up the bad guys.”

Riddle said she’s confident her bills fall under Perry’s emergency item designation and will be voted on in the session’s first 30 days.

Patrick said he wants sanctuary cities done away with so individual cities aren’t thumbing their noses at federal and — assuming the Legislature passes a bill he filed that requires officers to ask anyone without identification about their immigration status — state law.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight. It’s bad for the federal government to enforce its laws in Texas. It’s good for the state to require cities to enforce federal laws, even as such requirements represent unfunded mandates and fall outside the jurisdiction of municipal law enforcement agencies. Maybe what environmentalists need to do is get someone to file a bill that would require cities to arrest violators of the Clean Air Act. That seems to be the approved method of federal law enforcement these days.

Sheriffs not sold on Arizona immigration bill

Texas’ sheriffs are not very enthusiastic about being charged with enforcing federal immigration laws.

Texas has 254 sheriffs, and while opinions vary about whether illegal immigration should be their problem, some Republicans are pushing measures that won’t give them a choice. More than a dozen bills targeting illegal immigration await the Legislature when it convenes Tuesday, when the GOP will enter with a historic conservative supermajority in the House.

One bill would require police to ask drivers without identification if they’re in the country legally. Another would cut off state funds to departments that don’t enforce immigrations laws.

“It’s split among my colleagues on whether we should be out here just stopping individuals without probable cause, and questioning them on their immigration status,” said Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who believes the proposals invite profiling.

[…]

Many Texas sheriffs along the border, long vocal about being understaffed and underfunded on the edge of Mexico’s violent drug war, oppose the measures as another drain on their deputies. They and sheriffs in Houston and San Antonio also worry about profiling.

Others don’t see it as an imposition, and maybe a necessity. In Fort Bend County, which includes Houston’s conservative suburbs, Sheriff Milton Wright said he would support laws requiring his deputies to enforce immigration laws if the federal government won’t.

“If they’re not going to do it, then we need to,” he said.

Arizona’s new law left Texas facing unavoidable questions. Texas has an estimated 1.6 million illegal immigrants, second only to California, and Republicans control every statewide office. Gov. Rick Perry has said he doesn’t support Texas adopting a law identical to Arizona’s, while at the same time praising that state’s initiative for taking the illegal immigration problem into its own hands.

I fully expect that Gov. Perry will sign whatever immigration-related legislation makes it to his desk, despite what some people think. I do not believe he will cross the base on this, and I think there’s plenty of room to make enough cosmetic changes to Arizona’s bill to allow him to claim that Texas’ version of it is different.

It would have been good to hear from more Sheriffs on this. With the exception of Fort Bend’s Wright – who, if he truly believes there are no constitutional issues with making people show their papers as a matter of routine, can certainly instruct his deputies to do so – everyone in the story was opposed to such legislation. How many Sheriffs agree with Wright, and how much of the state’s population do they represent? Based on this story, the opponents can claim Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and all the border counties; I will presume Dallas is in this group as well. That’s an awful lot of the state right there.

It’s not at all clear that the legislators who want to force the sheriffs to do their bidding care about what they think, however.

So important is the issue to state Rep. Debbie Riddle that she camped outside the clerk’s window to ensure her get-tough immigration bills would be first in line. State Sen. Dan Patrick filed a bill that would require police to ask anyone without an ID whether they’re in the country illegally, but the Houston-area talk radio host says his measure affords officer discretion. For instance, he said an officer could choose not to arrest a harmless minivan-driving mom who is revealed to be an illegal immigrant.

Patrick, who visited Arizona to see its new law in action, said the possibility of legal challenges is no barrier.

“Too many people want to duck and cover and bury their heads in the sand,” Patrick said. “This is an issue we have to stand tall on. Republicans have to stand together.”

[…]

During the previous two legislative sessions, Patrick said “too much chaos” in the House doomed immigration proposals. This time, Patrick said, Republicans have the numbers – and a willingness to work with law enforcement.

“You have to have their buy-in,” Patrick said. “I want them to be enthusiastic about it.”

Won’t stop him from proceeding if they’re not, though. I continue to be fascinated by Republicans like Patrick who scream bloody murder when the federal government imposes a requirement on the state of Texas but have no problems imposing their own requirements on local governments that don’t want them. I guess counties don’t have rights.

If Patrick et al don’t care what the sheriffs think, do you suppose they’ll care what businesses think?

The Texas ACLU and an El Paso county sheriff who supports the controversial Secure Communities program stood side by side at the State Capitol in Austin Thursday to denounce pre-filed, immigration-related legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070. A conservative businessman was added to the mix, indicating lawmakers intent on rounding up Texas’ undocumented population might have a harder time than initially presumed.

“Who would imagine that after 28 years of law enforcement the ACLU would be talking so nicely about me,” Sheriff Richard Wiles joked after being introduced as a common-sense sheriff by ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke for his opposition to proposed legislation patterned off Arizona’s.

[…]

Bill Hammond, the executive director of the Texas Association of Business, said Texas should realize the business “pipeline” in Arizona has run dry after it passed its law, and Texas could share the same fate if bills aimed at businesses who hire undocumented immigrant pass.

“Some of this legislation would require then to become forensic experts and we think that’s unfair. It’s an unfair burden on them when what they are trying to do is provide employment for Texans who want a job,” he said. “Mexican nationals invest literally millions and millions of dollars in Texas and we believe that one of the detrimental effects that people haven’t considered is the drying up of that investment. In my view, if this legislation were to become law, perhaps someone should file a bill to change the state’s motto [“Friendship”] as well,” he said.

Texas Politics and the Statesman also covered that rally. While I appreciate Hammond’s willingness to speak out on this issue, I will once again say that until they actually target someone for defeat over this, they should continue to expect it from the Republicans they otherwise support. When TAB-backed candidates take on Riddle and Berman in the 2012 GOP primaries, that would be putting their money where their mouth is. Until then, I don’t expect any current Republicans to take their words on this too seriously.

Killing the DREAM in Texas

Something else to look forward to.

State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lexington) has filed legislation that would abolish Texas law granting in-state tuition to certain undocumented college students. The 2001 law, written by then-state Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston), was a precursor to the federal DREAM Act recently defeated by GOP members of the U.S. Senate.

State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) said he would file legislation to abolish the law if it survives an ongoing legal challenge in Houston, according to a November story in theTexas Independent. At the time, Noriega said that if the law was repealed, “Essentially, we’d be stamping out hope. Frankly, as a Texan, I just don’t think that’s who we are.”

Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 1403 into law in June 2001. The Texas Senate passed the bill with a final vote of 27-3 (with GOP Sens. Mike Jackson, Jane Nelson and Jeff Wentworth voting ‘nay’), and the Texas House passed the bill with a final vote of 130-2 (with GOP Reps. Will Hartnett and Jerry Madden voting ‘nay’).

Kleinschmidt’s HB 464 would tie a dependent student’s residency status to his/her parents’ domicile. According to the bill, “A person who is not authorized by law to be present in the United States may not be considered a resident of this state” to qualify for reduced in-state tuition.

A few points…

1. It cannot be said often enough: This is the team Aaron Pena decided to join. You own this now, Aaron.

2. One wonders if Rick Perry, who has generally not joined up with the Berman/Riddle xenophobia group, will have the cojones to veto this bill if it comes before him. I for one would not count on it.

3. Having said that, if the Senate maintains some form of the 2/3 rule, in whole or (more likely) in part by simply excluding voter ID legislation from it as they did in 2009, then perhaps Perry will be spared the decision. I suspect that would be his preferred option.

How anti-immigrant is this session going to be?

It will likely be very strongly anti-immigrant. It’s really just a question of how far the Republicans pushing this will go. The Democrats can’t stop them – I’m not expecting the Senate’s two thirds rule to be much of an impediment – so it’s just a matter of numbers on the Republican side. Those who claim they will fight back are too late.

The business community will likely fight legislation, said Rice University political science Professor Bob Stein, especially if the economy begins to improve.

“To the guy who’s running that small business, the roofer, the cementer, that’s a cheap labor force that he can hire up that’s non-union and he can use to make a recovery,” Stein said.

Texas businesses — particularly in the hospitality, agriculture and construction industries — rely on immigrant labor, said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business. Legislation seen as discriminatory could hurt Texas’ tourism and convention business, he said.

The illegal immigration issue should be handled at the national level, he said.

The whole reason why we’re going to have this fight here in Texas is because the business community, for all its limp protests about this kind of legislation, has never truly pushed back against it. If they actually cared about this, they would have tried at some point to unelect the ringleaders of the xenophobia caucus. But there have never been any consequences for anti-immigrant Republicans, so there is nothing holding them back. Until such time as the likes of TAB runs an opponent against the Riddles and Bermans of the world, there’s no reason for them to think twice about what they’re doing.

Looming over any immigration legislation is the pending legal challenge of Arizona’s law. A federal judge temporarily has blocked provisions of that law on the grounds that immigration enforcement is the federal government’s jurisdiction. Even if the law survives that challenge, it is certain to face later challenges on the grounds that it is discriminatory, said Scot Powe, a law professor at at UT-Austin.

“You need an example of an American citizen or somebody with a green card being improperly hassled under the law to bring that challenge, and I think that challenge is an ironclad winner,” Powe said.

It’s an iron-clad guarantee that what eventually gets passed will be subject to a lawsuit. The only questions are how much of it winds up getting thrown out, and how much time and money the state spends appealing the verdicts. Because no budget is ever too tight to waste money on this sort of thing. This is what we need to be prepared to be the alternative to.

The anti-immigrant hysteria has officially begun

Didn’t take long.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle camped out and endured “creepy” noises inside the cold, empty Capitol to be first in line Monday morning to file legislation targeting illegal immigration and ballot security.

The Tomball Republican said she remained outside the House chamber for two days because of the importance of getting priority bill numbers assigned to the two hot-button issues.

House Bill 16 would require voters to present photo identification or two forms of non-photo identification before they are allowed to cast ballots.

House Bill 17 is similar to Arizona’s controversial immigration law. It would allow law enforcement officers to charge an immigrant who lacks proper documentation and already is detained on another charge with criminal trespass – a Class B misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $2,000 and maximum jail time of six months.

Both issues are part of the Republican Party of Texas platform but have failed to pass in recent legislative sessions.

However, with election results transforming what had been a narrow, 76-74 Republican advantage in the state House to a whopping 99-51 margin, Riddle expects favorable treatment for both bills.

“We better. Otherwise, the citizens of Texas are going to be pretty outraged – and you ain’t seen nothing yet,” Riddle said Monday.

Democratic leaders said Riddle’s immigration bill would result in the same litigation that has tied up the Arizona law and drained millions of dollars from the state’s coffers.

I can’t think of a better way to encapsulate the blinding, irrational fear that motivates nutjobs like Riddle than the fact that she was actually frightened by things going bump in the night as she camped out like a teenager hoping to score Justin Bieber tickets. I don’t even know what else to say about that. Stace has a complete listing of Riddle’s mania, plus a statement by Rep. Armando Walle that decries her hatefulness. There’s going to be a lot more opportunities for that, I’m afraid.

There are three groups whose responses we need to watch. One of course is Democrats, who cannot stop any of this madness – you can be sure that the Senate’s two-thirds rule will not be allowed to be an obstacle – but who can send a message about what they truly stand for to the constituencies that need to hear it by their actions. There’s no reason, and no excuse, for wavering. Take whatever actions you can to make the inevitable somewhat less distasteful, and fight like hell every step of the way.

Another group to watch will be business interests, who continue to claim that they don’t support these measures.

In an illustration of the coming schism between pro-business Republicans and social conservatives in the party, the state’s largest business lobby is opposing all statewide immigration proposals, saying that attempting to solve the problem of illegal immigration at the state level is ineffective. “The bottom line is, Congress needs to act and pass comprehensive immigration reform. We’re sympathetic to the fact that Congress hasn’t acted. We’re frustrated, too,” says Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business. Hammond maintains the E-Verify computer system is too unreliable to put to use in Texas.

I’ll say again, until such time as Hammond and his cronies take direct action to oppose the lawmakers who are the driving forces behind this madness, their so-called “opposition” is meaningless fluff. Call them out by name, lobby them directly, recruit and/or raise money for primary opponents – there are many things they can do. Hell, just not giving money to them would be a step in the right direction. Put your money where your mouth is, Bill, or sit down, shut up and take it like the wimp you’ve been so far on this. If not, don’t be surprised when something like this happens.

The other group to watch will be those newly elected Latino Republicans in the Lege.

During the 81st Legislature, MALC put forth a united front in opposition to one of the session’s most divisive issues: voter ID. Though some members were more vocal than others, the caucus as a whole participated in the “chubbing” that successfully killed the bill on the House floor.

Assuming that all Hispanics will lock arms this session would be a mistake, [Rep.-elect Larry] Gonzales says.

“It does Latinos a huge disservice to say we all think alike,” he says.

Asked about whether he would vote for an Arizona-style immigration law in Texas, Gonzales said it would be “irresponsible” for him to deal with a hypothetical. But, he says, he supports the Arizona Legislature’s interpretation of what it believes is best for the state.

“I totally respect Arizona’s right as a sovereign state to do what it feels it needs to do,” he says.

[Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer is optimistic that differences can bridged.

“Yes, they are Republican. Yes, their ideology is different. But we are all Latinos,” he says. “I don’t see why an issue that affects me one way should be 180 degrees opposite somewhere else.”

I’m afraid I don’t share Rep. Martinez Fischer’s optimism. But we’re sure gonna find out soon enough.

Endorsement watch: State House

I think this list of State House recommendations wraps up the endorsements for the Chron. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other races left for them to do. Anyway, in twelve contests they went with ten incumbents, which is both good news (Kristi Thibaut, Ellen Cohen, Scott Hochberg, Senfronia Thompson, Jessican Farrar, Hubert Vo) and bad news (Bill Callegari, Dwayne Bohac, Ken Legler); the incumbent party in the one open seat (HD127); and one challenger:

Texas House District 150: Brad Neal, the Democratic challenger, is our choice over Republican incumbent Debbie Riddle. Riddle’s sponsorship of an Arizona-style immigration bill threatens to throw sand in the gears of the upcoming Austin session. We prefer Neal, a Texas A&M graduate, engineer and military veteran who is more in tune with this demographically changing district in north-central Harris County. He pledges to “represent the whole district; not just my neighborhood.” That would be a welcome change for many District 150 constituents.

This marks the third consecutive election in which the Chron has endorsed Riddle’s opponent; to the best of my knowledge, every time she has had a Democratic opponent, that opponent has been Chron-endorsed, including Brad Neal in 2008. Hopefully, one of these days the voters in HD150 will pay heed.

Interview with Brad Neal

Brad Neal

For my last legislative race interview, I visited with Brad Neal, who is challenging Rep. Debbie Riddle in HD150. Yes, that Debbie Riddle. Neal is a mechanical engineer and a veteran of the Army National Guard and the Marine Corps Reserve, and it rather goes without saying would be a huge improvement over the seat’s current occupant. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

“Laugh at me, will they? Well, they laughed at Bozo the Clown, too!”

I still can’t believe that this whole “terrorist babies” thing wasn’t originally a story in The Onion. All I can say is that Debbie Riddle and Louie Gohmert, bless their hearts, are doing their very best to make The Onion’s job harder. Juanita, Eileen, The Trib, Harold Cook, and Hair Balls have more.

UPDATE: Here’s a transcript. Be careful, you may actually lose IQ points by reading it. I recommend taking it in small doses.

FBI smacks down Riddle and Gohmert

The whole “terrorist babies” delusion is so mind-bendingly stupid that it doesn’t even belong on late night public access TV, but such is the nature of our discourse that it was featured on Anderson Cooper 360 Tuesday. Thankfully, Cooper took the time to try to clean up the mess that was left in his studio as a result.

So on Wednesday night, Cooper hosted Tom Fuentes, who served as the FBI’s assistant director in the office of international operations from 2004 to 2008.

“The FBI has 75 offices overseas, including offices in Jordan, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan,” explained Fuentes. “There was never a credible report — or any report, for that matter — coming across through all the various mechanisms of communication to indicate that there was such a plan for these terror babies to be born.

“Also, I’d like to add, there seems to be a lot of former FBI agents lurking in the halls of Congress and in the legislature in the state of Texas, so I’m kind of curious about that issue as well.”

“I think — in this case, I think the FBI has knocked this story down completely, officially or unofficially,” Fuentes also added. “I think at first they didn’t want to comment on it just because they didn’t want to lend any credence to the people spreading it, but realized that there has to be some comment or else the no comment, you know, means there might be some secret classified information out there, but — but there is no credible information about this particular aspect.

“And something else I caught in your interview of Debbie Riddle where she says a former FBI agent informed her office. What does that mean? They talked to a receptionist? They talked to the janitor? You don’t talk to an office. If an FBI agent was going to brief someone that’s a public official about a sensitive matter of potential terrorism, they’re not going to talk to anybody but the elected official himself or herself.”

This all vaguely reminds me of the ritual abuse panic of the 80s, which at least had something sort of resembling “evidence” to back it up. Except that in this case, the kids are part of the imagined evil plot, too. I’m going to go have a stiff drink now. The Trib has more.

More proof of my theory

That would be my theory that fifty or sixty years ago, a number of terror cells infiltrated the US and impregnated a bunch of women with babies who were groomed from birth to become utter morons who would destroy the country from within by their sheer, unbounded stupidity. It explains Louie Gohmert, and it explains Debbie Riddle. Honestly, whatever terrors her paranoid yet feeble mind conjures up that keeps her awake at night, they could not possibly be as scary as she herself is. Hair Balls, Stace, and In the Pink have theories of their own.

The immigration wedge issue for the GOP

I have three things to say about this story.

Evangelical ministers in Texas and across the nation are splitting off from the hard right, declaring immigration reform is needed that includes a path to citizenship without first deporting millions of illegal immigrants.

That aligns evangelicals with conservative Republican businessmen who want reform because they want the labor. But it puts the evangelicals at odds with the fiscal and hard right conservatives who take the position that illegal immigrants broke the law and should be deported before being given a chance to re-enter the country.

“It may split the old conservative coalition. It’s not going to split the new one,” said Richard Land, a Houston native who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“If the conservative coalition is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to include an awful lot of Hispanics, and you’re not going to bring an awful lot of Hispanics into your coalition with anti-Hispanic immigration rhetoric,” Land said.

I’ll stipulate that President Obama has been a disappointment on immigration reform. I’ll stipulate that too many Democrats have been lily-livered and just plain wrong on this issue, to the point of using the crazy as cover to tack right on the issue. But look, if even ten percent of the GOP caucus in Congress were willing to vote for a comprehensive immigration reform plan, it would be damn near a slam dunk. Hell, if the GOP Senators would just agree to not filibuster, that would almost surely be enough. They might have even gained yardage with Latinos if they had adopted a non-obstructive strategy. It’s not hard to imagine the Democrats taking months dithering and negotiating with themselves and dealing with hostage takers as they did with health care reform before finally putting forward a weak-kneed, compromise-laden kludge that nobody really liked but they owned 100%. The Republicans didn’t need to lead on this, they just needed to get the hell out of the way. So while I applaud Land and his fellow evangelicals for their words, until such time as they call out the Republicans for their intransigence, especially the so-called “moderates” from Maine and Massachusetts and the heinous flip-floppers McCain and Graham, it’s all just words, and they mean very little. Calling out the racists and the liars would be nice, too.

Bill Hammond, president of the Republican-leaning Texas Association of Business, said the state’s businesses need the foreign workers, especially in hospitality, agriculture and construction.

Immigration, Hammond said, is an issue that’s “dividing us from our traditional friends. We would cross swords on this one.”

Again, this is a matter of all talk and no action. Hammond and his cronies could have found and supported a primary opponent for the likes of Leo Berman and Debbie Riddle, if they really meant to “cross swords”. Put some of your considerable financial resources where your yap is, Bill, and then I’ll give you some credibility on this matter.

And speaking of crazy Leo:

Berman said he believes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is a path to creating Democratic voters.

“There’s 25 million in the United States – you can’t listen to the 8 million to 12 million numbers that come out of Washington every day – you’re going to create an instant 25 million Democrats,” Berman said.

“I don’t think these evangelical leaders understand that.”

Actually, I thought Richard Land addressed that point pretty clearly, but whatever. Leo’s not about the facts anyway, as you can see. But I agree he’s right that most undocumented immigrants would vote Democratic if they were allowed to vote. Berman has himself and others like him to blame for that, as they have done all they can to make the GOP as warm and welcoming of immigrants in general and Latinos in particular as they’ve been of blacks, gays, and unmarried women. Funny how these things work, isn’t it?

Briefly noted

Some interesting things from today that I wanted to note…

There are plenty of people who want to be on the Appropriations Committee, so putting some who doesn’t want to be there, like State Rep. Joe Driver of Dallas, doesn’t make much sense. But once you’re on Appropriations, whether you wanted it or not, you ought to show up to the big budget meetings, what with the budget being such a big deal and all these days.

As you know, TFN will be live-blogging what may be the last clown show of some SBOE members’ careers. I expect the Texas Observer and the Trib to be there as well. If you want some preliminaries, you can attend TFN’s “Don’t White-Out Our History” rally, about which SBOE candidate Judy Jennings has more. You can also read Martha’s explanation of the Board’s agenda for the next few days.

The long-awaited Martinez-Fischer/Riddle debate finally took place. Rep. Martinez-Fischer declares victory and talks a little smack.

State Sen. Mario Gallegos writes another letter about HISD Superintendent Terry Grier.

Finally, a release from the HCDP:

On the recent episode of the PBS local series Red, White and Blue, Republican candidate for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners was asked if he was concerned about getting the support of the Hispanic community after defeating incumbent Leo Vasquez. His answer concluded with the following – “I don’t have a problem with their (Hispanics) agenda except for trying to get benefits that may not have been earned.”

Below is a statement from State Representative Armando Walle:

“Mr. Sumner’s position that Hispanic families don’t work hard for what they earn is both ignorant and offensive but not the least bit surprising. With their inflammatory rhetoric and political agenda, Texas Republicans have made it clear there is no room for Hispanics in their Party.

Most recently, local Republican state representative Debbie Riddle announced plans to introduce a Texas version of the highly controversial and discriminatory Arizona immigration legislation.  And later this week in Austin, the extremist Republicans who control the State Board of Education will meet to finalize their plans to purge Tejano heroes who died at the Alamo from our children’s social studies books. Latinos have played a major role in shaping Texas’s rich culture and history, but local Republican politicians see our community as a pinata to score points with the far right wing of their party. This assault on our community is disrespectful, intolerant and will not be forgotten when Hispanics head to the polls in November.”

I think that about covers it.

Will Texas make like Arizona?

If there’s been one small positive thing about the ridiculous Arizona anti-immigrant law, it’s been to remind the rest of the country that states besides Texas do crazy, inexplicable things as well. And I do believe that there’s a reason to be optimistic that in the end, people will learn that this was a terribly wrong thing to do. I’m also hopeful that while crazies like Rep. Debbie Riddle will propose legislation to do what Arizona has done, it won’t get anywhere. She’s done this before, without success, and I don’t see her getting any more traction on it next year.

I could be wrong about that, of course. The good news is that the political implications of Arizona’s actions may play in Bill White’s favor.

“In the best of all worlds, for White to win, there has to be a large Latino voter turnout,” said Jerry Polinard, a political scientist at the University of Texas Pan-American.

He said if the anti-immigration debate nationally is perceived as anti-Latino, it could spark a voter turnout that has not been there for Democrats in the past.

“This is almost like a gift to him,” Polinard said of White.

The anti-immigration voters already like Perry and do not need to be convinced to vote for him, Polinard said.

“What this does is make it harder for the governor to get back to the middle of the road,” he said.

True enough, but this isn’t really what Rick Perry wants to talk about. I doubt he’d have picked yesterday to tell us about that coyote he killed in February if he were eager to discuss Arizona. The list of what’s wrong with Rick Perry is several miles long, but for the most part he’s not been a demagogue on immigration; certainly, compared to some of his partymates, he’s downright reasonable. Sure, he’s tossed around the silly “sanctuary city” charge at Bill White, because he’s never not playing to the cheap seats, and he likes to talk big about frivolous money-wasters like border cameras, but I do believe that he’s unlikely to make a big deal out of this.

Jim Harrington, of the Texas Civil Rights Project, predicted “zero” chance of a similar effort here, saying Texas has “a different relationship with the Hispanic community.”

Such a push “would cause an enormous political transformation of the state a lot quicker than it’s happening at this point,” Harrington said. “It would galvanize the Hispanic community astronomically.”

Asked about the Arizona law, GOP Gov. Rick Perry and his Democratic challenger, Bill White, emphasized through spokespeople that immigration is a federal responsibility.

“You can take the political temperature by just looking at Rick Perry being quiet,” Harrington said.

I suspect Perry won’t change his approach much. He’ll keep bashing the federal government for its failures on fixing the immigration system while doing his usual macho posturing, but in keeping with his norms he won’t actually propose any solutions. White will likely stick to his “it’s a federal responsibility” line, which is true but carries the risk of annoying supporters who want to see him take a stronger stand against measures like Arizona’s. Sometimes, just not being the Republican isn’t enough.

Still, it’s important to remember that even if Rick Perry is kinda not too bad on immigration issues, many members of his party, like Riddle and Leo Berman, are nuts. And this is a serious schism in the GOP that isn’t going away any time soon.

The Texas Association of Business’ Bill Hammond said that while it is likely similar legislation will be filed in the Lone Star State, “I think and hope there’s little likelihood the Texas Legislature would pass anything so misguided as what they’ve done in Arizona. I think it is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Hey, Bill, here’s a suggestion. Instead of blowing smoke about health care, why not do something that you’re actually good at and find primary challengers for clowns like Riddle and Berman, who are the ones pushing this legislation that you say is hurtful and unconstitutional? I know, it’s too late for this year, and by 2012 it may not matter. Point is, this is something you could have taken action on if it really mattered to you.

UPDATE: The Trib has Perry’s statement, which is pretty much what I expected.

Friends and foes

The Texas Observer poo-poos the idea of “Best Of” and “Top Ten” lists, then gives us its stab at a Best and Worst tabulation by naming six of “The People’s Friends” and five “Foes”. Where Texas Monthly focuses more on effectiveness in getting things done, the Observer takes the position that it’s not just about getting results but working to get good results that matters. That will necessarily lead to a more subjective list, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The TPPF/TAB crowd can and do produce their own lists, too, after all.

The five Foes are all Republicans, not that this should come as a surprise. I will say this, the fall of the house of Craddick made this task harder than it might have been in other years, as some of the historically bad actors were at least somewhat marginanalized this time around. Still, there’s always room for the likes of Debbie Riddle, Leo Berman, and Dan Patrick, just on general principles. Perhaps they should have included those who just missed the cut as well, as Honorable – or in this case, Dishonorable – Mentions.

The six Friends are an even mix of Ds and Rs. The one that will surely cause some consternation is this one:

Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless

Todd Smith had a thankless job. As chairman of the House Elections Committee, he was tasked with shepherding voter ID through the chamber. Partisan Republicans badly wanted the bill to pass. Democrats were desperate to kill it. To Smith’s credit, he tried to find a compromise on an issue so polluted by partisanship that compromise might have been impossible. In the end, it did prove impossible, but Smith gets an “A” for effort. Later in the session, Smith broke again with the hardcore members of his party. Some House Republicans, suspecting a Democratic ploy, opposed a bill by Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia that was designed to register more high-schoolers to vote. Smith spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor, informing his colleagues that registering voters was a nonpartisan activity that everyone should support. He was one of just two Republicans to vote for the bill, putting good public policy ahead of rank partisanship.

That’s a generous interpretation of Smith’s role in the voter ID debacle. I don’t really care to wade in on that, as I hope we’ve seen the last of voter ID legislation for the foreseeable future, but I will say that if one insisted on balancing the Ds and the Rs, I might have gone for Sen. Kevin Eltife, who did yeoman’s work in getting the unemployment insurance bill through the Senate, or Rep. Rob Eissler, who has been a key ally of designated Friend Rep. Scott Hochberg on education matters. Greg plumps for Rep. John Zerwas, on the grounds that saving a life = automatic inclusion on any Best list. Hard to argue with that. Be that as it may, I might have decided instead that there was no need for partisan balance here, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Anyway, it’s an interesting list and a good way to frame the discussion. Check it out.