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Diego Bernal

School districts don’t need gift registries

They need to have their needs met by the state.

Texas school districts ravaged by Hurricane Harvey still need thousands of textbooks, dictionaries and other instructional resources, so the state’s education agency is borrowing a page from the wedding industry to help cover the costs.

The Texas Education Agency has modified its textbook ordering system to create a “wedding registry” of sorts where districts can list the textbooks they need to replace those damaged in the storm.

Textbook publishers, individuals or organizations can then donate the books, as can school districts that have excess inventory.

“It was very clear that a lot of people lost a great amount of instructional materials, including textbooks,” Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said. “If you consider the scale of Harvey, (the registry) is not solving everyone’s problems, but it is helping in places.”

The registry is meant to match districts in need with those willing to donate, and officials say those donations will free up money to cover other costs, such as rebuilding schools.

But some question the approach, expressing concerns over delays in instruction as schools wait for the textbooks to arrive, and the impact that will have on student learning.

“If we had books that have been destroyed, then the state needs to step up and take care of that problem,” said Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who chairs the House Public Education Committee.

So far, 14 districts have created needs-lists in the state’s registry, including Humble, Sheldon and Pasadena school districts.

You can see the registry page here. I mean, I have no problem with providing a way for districts that have surplus supplies to give them to those that need them, but that should not be the first avenue of recourse. Students need textbooks and other such materials today – remember, their standardized test scores are still going to count. As Rep. Huberty says, the districts should just buy what they need and send the bill to the state. Admittedly, I can understand why they might be skittish about that, but if there’s one time where public opinion should be overwhelmingly on their side, this would be it. Let’s not waste any time here.

House still opposes vouchers

Keep on keeping on, y’all.

The top House education leader said Sunday that “private school choice” is still dead in the lower chamber.

“We only voted six times against it in the House,” House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty said. “There’s nothing more offensive as a parent of a special-needs child than to tell me what I think I need. I’m prepared to have that discussion again. I don’t think [the Senate is] going to like it — because now I’m pissed off.”

Huberty, R-Houston, told a crowd of school administrators at a panel at the University of Texas at Austin that he plans to restart the conversation on school finance in the July-August special session after the Senate and House hit a stalemate on the issue late during the regular session. Huberty’s bill pumping $1.5 billion into public schools died after the Senate appended a “private school choice” measure, opposed by the House.

Huberty was joined by Education Committee Vice Chairman Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, and committee member Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, on a panel hosted by the Texas Association of School Administrators, where they said they didn’t plan to give in to the Senate on the contentious bill subsidizing private school tuition for kids with special needs.

[…]

VanDeaver said educators have two options: They can give in to the Senate’s attempts to attach school finance and private school choice, or they can vote against legislators who want those issues linked.

“If you don’t stick up for yourselves in a real way … we are going to lose,” Bernal added.

Amen to that. The real question is why do so many Senators serve Dan Patrick’s interests instead of their districts’? You know what I say, nothing will change until the people who get elected change.

Beyond that, one wonders how this will play out. Does the House simply refuse to vote a voucher bill out of committee, or do they let it come to the floor and then vote it down? Would Greg Abbott call another special session to force the issue? How big a hissy fit does Dan Patrick throw when he is thwarted? (Spoiler alert: very big.) Bring on the tantrums, I say.

LGBT anti-discrimination bills voted out of House committee

One bit of good news this week.

In an unprecedented vote, a House committee on Wednesday approved two bills to prohibit housing and employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Dallas Republican Rep. Jason Villalba split with his party and provided the tie-breaking vote for both bills, which passed the House Committee on Business and Industry by one vote. Democrats have pushed both measures for years without success.

While the two bills still have very far to go before they could become law, Villalba said it was time Republicans begin to agree on the need to extend greater rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans.

“It was time for people from all across the political spectrum to acknowledge that LGBT citizens from the great state of Texas are Texans,” Villalba told The Dallas Morning News after the vote. “Will other Republicans follow my lead? I doubt it, but the time has come.”

House Bill 225 by Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, would prohibit businesses from discriminating against employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. House Bill 192, by San Antonio Democrat Diego Bernal, would make it illegal to refuse to sell or rent to someone because of these same

Johnson, who has authored the employment measure for at least two legislative sessions, said this is the most progress his bill has ever made.

This is as far as these bills will go, but just getting them approved by a committee is a big deal, as it had never been done before. To me, the best part of this story is what persuaded Rep. Villalba to say Yes.

The final straw, said Villalba, was “that email that I got.”

The weekend before the vote on Johnson’s bill, Hotze sent a text en masse to House Republicans urging them to support Senate Bill 6 — the “bathroom bill” that would bar transgender people from using the restroom that matches their gender identity — or else the face political retribution of being placed on a list of Republicans who oppose the measure.

The texts were personalized. “Dear Jason,” his began, “Greetings! Do you support SB 6?”

What came next was a link to a blog Hotze wrote on April 27 that called LGBT people perverted and accused Republicans who oppose the bathroom bill of being “willing to sell out the safety of their mothers, wives, daughters and granddaughters to protect their financial interests.”

“No one should be considered a minority deserving of preferential treatment, because of their chosen sexual perversion, their so-called ‘gender identity’ or the types of sexual acts in which they engage. These are all chosen behaviors,” Hotze wrote. “Take this thought process to its natural progression; what would prevent some activist judge from ruling that those who practice prostitution, transvestitism, pedophilia or bestiality are part of this class deserving of special protection because of their sexual orientation?”

The text continued, “If you do not respond, then you will be considered a ‘No’ on SB 6. …Please respond today.”

“I saw that, and I’m like, ‘That’s enough,’ ” Villalba said. “I cannot stand on the sidelines when people who claim to share my political philosophy are so hateful.

“I don’t want to live that example. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. Believe me, he will be. In 20 years we’ll look back on these days and we’ll be astounded that there was ever a time in our country where people would discriminate against others merely because of their sexual preference.

Yes to all of that. Nothing could be sweeter than shoving Steve Hotze’s own words right down his throat. Kudos to Rep. Villalba for seeing the light, and to Rep. Johnson for pushing him to seek it out.

More reasons not to put people in jail

We shouldn’t put people in jail for owing fines.

In January, state Rep. James White, R-Hillister, filed House Bill 1125, which would ban Texas judges from jailing people for an offense that is punishable only by a fine. State Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, soon signed on as a joint author. On Thursday, White also filed House Bill 3729, which would require courts to ask whether a defendant can afford to pay a fine and offer alternatives to payment.

Bernal said representing a district with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds made him realize how a simple traffic ticket could dramatically affect someone’s life. HB 1125 would “level the playing field” and “give people some dignity,” he said.

Thousands of Texans are at risk of being arrested at any given moment for not paying fines related to traffic offenses or other city ordinance violations, according to a recently released report by Texas Appleseed and the Texas Fair Defense Project. Those who can’t afford to pay often find themselves hit with additional fines or other restrictions such as being blocked from renewing their driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.

More than 200,000 Texans can’t renew their licenses and approximately 400,000 have holds on vehicle registrations due to unpaid fines, according to the report. In 2015, almost 3 million warrants were issued in cases where the punishment was originally just a fine.

“What happens is that the current system is counterproductive, and it drives people further into debt because they’re accumulating more tickets for driving illegally and on top of those tickets are all of the costs and fees that start snowballing as well,” said Mary Mergler, criminal justice project director with Texas Appleseed. “So it drives people further into debt … and impedes people’s abilities to make a living.”

Courts generally don’t offer alternatives to jailing or ask about a defendant’s ability to pay, the study found. In 2015, judges rarely used community service to resolve “fine-only” cases – just 1.3 percent of the time. In fewer than 1 percent of cases, they waived fines or reduced payments owed because the defendant couldn’t afford to pay, according to the study.

Many drivers feel a sense of helplessness related to paying off their mounting fines, said Emily Gerrick, a staff attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project.

“It’s very easy for people to accumulate thousands of dollars in ticket debt even if they’re not bad drivers, just because they have to get their kids to school, they have to go to the doctor,” she said. “There’s no choice but to drive, so they’re going to keep getting these tickets and then eventually, what ends up happening is they get their warrant, they go to jail.”

That kind of disruption puts families, jobs and housing at risk, studies and individual accounts have shown.

“They’re usually very distressed,” Gerrick said, describing clients behind bars. “I’ve had them not know where their kids were when I saw them.”

Mergler added that the situation undermines, rather than improves, public safety.

“People with outstanding warrants who are afraid of being arrested on those warrants are inclined to avoid contact with law enforcement, whether that’s to report a crime or even to ask for help when they themselves are a victim of crime,” she said.

I agree with this, and I agree that we should not jail people for having unpaid fines. I’m sure there are some exceptional circumstances under which jailing is the best option, but it should be the exception and not the rule. Otherwise, people should always be given alternative means of complying – payment plans, community service, some other means that people smarter than I am can come up with – and should not have additional violations and fines piled on top of their existing ones if they are in the process of paying them off. It’s not justice, and it’s not right. I support these bills and I hope to see them become laws.

(By the way, that same argument at the end of this story, about how this situation undermines public safety, is basically the same argument made by police chiefs and sheriffs against so-called “sanctuary cities”. Just wanted to point that out.)

Publisher of crappy Mexican American Studies textbook defends said textbook

It’s not that crappy, she swears.

The publisher of a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook that scholars, elected officials and Hispanic activists have decried as racist and inaccurate is defending the high school text ahead of a public hearing on the book Tuesday before the Texas State Board of Education.

“There’s never been a book in the history of SBOE that’s been attacked so prematurely in the process,” said Cynthia Dunbar, a former right-wing Republican member of the education board who now heads the educational curriculum company that produced the textbook.

The text, titled Mexican American Heritage and published by Momentum Instruction, was the only submission the board received after it issued a call in 2015 for textbooks to be used in Mexican-American studies classes at the high school level. The powerful 15-member panel sets statewide curriculum and approves textbooks.

[…]

Dunbar, who had not previously responded to interview requests, told The Texas Tribune on Monday that criticisms have been overblown and that most of them are based on a draft copy that her company has since revised. Changes include corrections of at least a few factual errors — one identified by an SBOE-appointed review board — and other tweaks in response to public feedback. The passage that implied that Mexican-American laborers are lazy has been “clarified,” Dunbar said, while contending that critics took that particular bit out of context.

“It exposed a racial bias stereotyped against them,” she said, noting that the review board found that the book totally met state curriculum standards.

“The point is there’s no hidden agenda here,” she added.

See here and here for some background. It’s nice that Dunbar says the book has undergone revisions and fixed some errors since it first appeared, but Dunbar has a long history of saying and doing ugly things, so her credibility isn’t very high. I’ll wait to hear from someone more trustworthy before I believe there’s any merit to her publication. In the meantime, the advice of rejecting this book and (one hopes) getting other groups to write them remains sound. See this open letter from SBOE member Marisa Perez for more.

The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be any support for adopting this textbook.

Hundreds of Hispanic advocates, activists, students and elected officials from across the state on Tuesday called on the Texas Board of Education to reject a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook they blasted as blatantly racist and which many scholars have deemed historically inaccurate.

The 15-member education board took public input on the text during an hours-long public hearing at which some of the panel’s Republican members criticized the Legislature for diminishing the education board’s power to vet textbooks.

The panel will vote to accept or reject the text in November, when it will hold a second public hearing.

[…]

Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville, who was so concerned about the text that he convened an ad-hoc committee of scholars and educators to review it, said he believes a supermajority of his colleagues will vote to reject it. (A report his committee unveiled last week found that the text is littered with errors.) Meanwhile, Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, described the text Tuesday as “dead on arrival” and board member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said he has “real concerns” about it.

Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, kicked off the public hearing with a heartfelt message dedicated to “Mexican-American colleagues, friends and neighbors,” assuring them that the board is committed to approving accurate instructional materials that adequately reflect their major role in U.S. society.

“Your story is part of the American story,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have their story told in a fair and accurate manner.”

Several Republican board members criticized Texas legislators on Tuesday for passing laws over the years that have diminished the panel’s authority to decide what textbooks local school districts use. And they warned that their weakened oversight could mean the proliferation of even more controversial instructional material.

They pointed specifically to legislation approved in 2011 that allowed school districts to choose textbooks that haven’t been approved by the board as long as they can show their instructional materials cover state curriculum standards. (Senate Bill 6, passed in the wake of a raucous, high-profile debate over social studies curriculum in which members of the board’s since-diminished social conservative block — including Dunbar — grabbed national headlines for their extreme comments.)

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, and other board members complained repeatedly Tuesday that the law allows for publishers to peddle problematic textbooks directly to school districts. He and former board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked Democratic Hispanic lawmakers who addressed the board if they’d be willing to reconsider those parameters.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, acknowledged that “legislation has a history of unintended consequences and this very well may be a case.”The Senate Education Committee is “looking at everything including this issue you’re bringing up,” state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who is a member of that panel, told the board.

But Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, said the purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was not to “re-litigate” old legislation but discuss whether the text should be allowed in Texas classrooms.

“Not only does this book not belong in the classroom, it doesn’t deserve the attention it’s getting now,” he said.

I agree, but at least all the attention has accomplished one thing, and that’s the real need for a much better textbook. Let’s hope the next time around we get more than one possible candidates for that.

Overview of two Bexar County legislative primaries

The turnover of Bexar County’s Democratic legislative caucus continues apace. With the departures in 2015 of Mike Villarreal and Jose Menendez (succeeded by Diego Bernal and Ina Minjarez, respectively) and the departures this year by Joe Farias, Trey Martinez-Fischer, and Ruth Jones McClendon, there will be a whole lot of Bexar County legislators being sworn in on January 2, 2017 that weren’t there two years before. The Rivard Report takes a look at the three candidates who hope to succeed TMF in HD116.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez are not exactly household names in San Antonio, but all three candidates are hoping past political training or staff experience propel them into elected office. The primary winner – or May 24 runoff winner if a second round of voting is necessary – will run unopposed on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot and be sworn into office in January.

[…]

A Jefferson High School graduate, Arévalo served on the San Antonio Youth Commission and became involved with student government while attending college. She majored in business, earning a bachelor’s degree at UTSA and a master’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. As an undergraduate, Arévalo was a fellow at the United Leaders Institute for Political Service at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and she attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University.

She worked as an intern in U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office, and at the Obama White House in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. She parlayed these and other experiences into a chance to work with the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee, and on President Obama’s 2013 inaugural committee.

Back home, Arévalo has served as secretary of the Bexar County Democratic Party, and currently chairs the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention Host Committee. Her party work led to an opportunity to manage the 2013 City Council campaign of Leticia Ozuna, who finished second in a three way-race won by Rebecca Viagran. Arévalo said she learned a lot from the experience that she now is applying in her own campaign.

[…]

Golando, 38, is a native Midwesterner who has called San Antonio home for 17 years. He earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law and is a partner in the downtown law firm Garza Golando Moran, specializing in election and civil rights laws. Golando has the most direct connection to Martinez Fischer. He has worked for him for 10 years, including time as his chief of staff. Galindo said he focused on water policy, taxation and legislative procedure.

Golando has served for two years as general counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus, and he has served as a co-counsel during the hotly contested Texas redistricting case and all challenges to the Texas Voter ID law. In 2013, Golando was briefly in the national spotlight. In the wake of the legislative redistricting fight that began in 2011, Golando requested repayment from the state of more than $282,000 in legal fees he said he incurred while helping the caucus in its legal battle.

The state’s Attorney General’s office, then under Greg Abbott’s leadership, said Golando was ineligible for repayment because of his dual employment. Golando has kept up the legal battle, and the case is still active.

[…]

Resendez is the first graduate of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s program to prepare young Latinas for public service who is seeking elected office, which led to this recent story on the Rivard Report.

“People want to have good, high-quality, high-paying jobs. People also want to make sure senior citizens’ needs are met,” Resendez said she has learned in her district campaigning. “There are good ideas in the community. We’re getting out onto the streets to help find solutions to conflicts in our neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, the Express News provides a glimpse of the six candidates running to succeed McClendon in HD120.

On the Democrats’ March 1 ballot — listed in the following order — are Lou Miller, Latronda Darnell, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Art Hall, Mario Salas and Byron Miller.

[…]

Lou Miller, an insurance agent and district governor for Rotary International who served on the city zoning commission and the VIA Transit board, said he knows “how to get things done even as a non-elected official,” having helped lure a planned health clinic to the East Side.

He said he’d continue McClendon’s push to build a state office complex near downtown, a $135 million proposal that was approved by lawmakers in 2015 but vetoed by Abbott as too costly.

Darnell, a former legislative staffer to McClendon, said social justice issues are an overriding concern, along with improving education. Having served in the Legislature, she said she already has working relationships with key lawmakers and state officials, and her experience there taught her that “what happens in Austin happens to you.”

Working for McClendon, who had served District 120 since 1996, Darnell said she learned that “to serve 120 means to be engaged with this community.” And while candidates may have great ideas, change won’t happen if a lawmaker doesn’t have good rapport with other leaders.

Gervin-Hawkins, an educator who serves as executive director and superintendent of the George Gervin Youth Center, cited education as her focus, including faith-based, non-profit and public schools.

Calling these “pivotal times,” she said “what’s needed in Austin right now is someone with diplomacy, strategic planning and the ability to make things happen.” Lamenting a disinterested electorate, she said “we’ve got to give people hope again.” And citing rivalries exposed by the campaign, Gervin-Hawkins said “it’s about how we work together. Let’s unify. ”

Hall, a Harvard grad who earned a law degree from Texas Tech, likewise said education would be his top concern. The attorney who served on City Council and works as a district director for Alamo Colleges, said he’s wants to apply the financial and international business acumen he gained in the private sector.

“We deserve good, strong leadership to carry on the legacy that Ruth Jones McClendon and many others have left behind,” Hall said. Citing his role as a minister, Hall departed from the rest by saying he doesn’t condone same-sex marriage.

Salas, an educator who served on City Council and the Judson ISD board, wants teachers to be treated better by the state, along with minorities and women.

“We need a fighter in that position and I intend to wind it up,” Salas said. He called attention to his long involvement in racial equality and social justice causes and touted his backing by teacher groups. In Austin, Salas said he’s ready to fight “this jaugernaut of right-wing extremism” that impacts immigration policy and other issues.

Byron Miller, an attorney and Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who served as a justice of the peace and on numerous community boards, said he’s determined to bring better treatment of veterans and the elderly, and he’s also an advocate for early childhood education.

Although the district continues to have problems with infrastructure and social justice, Byron Miller said “it’s getting better” and will continue doing so “if we work together.” He added: “I want to represent everyone, equally.”

Golando in HD116 and Miller in HD120 were endorsed by the Express-News in their primaries. I don’t know much about any of these people, so it’s good to get at least a few tidbits.

It’s worth noting that in 2012, there were eight Democrats elected to the Lege from Bexar County, out of ten total districts. Here’s what the delegation looked like then, and what happened to them since:

HD116 – Trey Martinez-Fischer. He ran in the special election for SD26 after Leticia Van de Putte stepped down to run for Mayor but lost in a runoff to Jose Menendez. This year, he chose to go for a rematch in SD26, thus leaving his seat open.

HD117 – Philip Cortez reclaimed a seat that had been held by David Leibowitz from 2004 through 2010 before losing it in the 2010 wipeout. Cortez then lost it in 2014, and is trying to win it back this year.

HS118 – Joe Farias. Elected in 2006 to succeed Carlos Uresti after his successful primary race against then-Sen. Frank Madla, Farias announced his retirement at the end of the last session. He vacated his seat shortly thereafter, and the remainder of his term was won in a special election runoff by a Republican. Two Democrats, both of whom vied for his seat in the special election, are fighting each other in the primary for the chance to win it back in November: Gabe (son of Joe) Farias, and Tomas (brother of Carlos) Uresti; the latter was the loser in the special election runoff.

HD119 – Roland Gutierrez is now the senior member of the delegation. He was elected in 2008 in an unopposed primary to succeed Robert Puente, who was one of the last Craddick Dems still in the Lege.

HD120 – As noted above, Ruth Jones McClendon has retired, and resigned her seat. A special election to fill the remainder of her term will be held in May.

HD123 – Mike Villarreal. He stepped down after winning re-election in 2014 so he could run for Mayor of San Antonio. Diego Bernal won that seat in a January special election.

HD124 – Jose Menendez was the winner for SD26 last year, which then created a vacancy for his seat. Ina Minjarez won that in an April runoff.

HD125 – Justin Rodriguez is now the second longest-serving Democrat in Bexar County. He won the primary for that seat after Joaquin Castro moved up to Congress.

Whew. Lots of changes, with more to come. Good luck sorting it all out, Bexar County.

Would you like to sit in armed or unarmed?

From Houstonia:

Imagine it’s a Saturday afternoon. You stop into Whataburger to pick up lunch with your kids in tow, the only thing on your mind remembering which kid doesn’t want ketchup on his burger, which kid only wants ketchup on his burger, and whether you want to add jalapenõs to your own. You place your order and are pulling out your wallet to pay when a man walks in with a Sig Sauer strapped to his belt. He’s not in any kind of uniform; he’s not wearing a badge. He’s just a guy with his gun, and you’re just a guy with his kids. Are you okay with this scenario? Maybe so. Or maybe you can’t understand why a guy would need to bring his gun into a fast-food restaurant, and you decide to leave without your burgers.

Whataburger has long bet that a good portion of its customers belong to the latter group, hence its company-wide policy against open carry, which has been legal for years in other states where the chain operates, from Arizona to Arkansas. In advance of the new statewide law that goes into effect in Texas this January 1—the much-discussed House Bill 910 that makes Texas the 45th state to allow residents to openly carry and display their handguns—the Corpus Christi–based company recently reiterated that policy.

[…]

The thing is, there’s still a great deal of confusion surrounding the impending changes, as business associations large and small, reluctant to enter the quagmire of gun control politics, have been slow to provide guidance to private entities that may want to ban open carry. (The Greater Houston Restaurant Association didn’t even return Houstonia’s requests for comment.) As a result, getting those signs up in the first place is proving tougher than expected.

And in fact, rules for the necessary signage are complicated. “Business owners that want to ban guns from their property must post a new sign that adheres to strict wording, colors and text size,” says Terry McBurney, president of the Greater Montgomery County Restaurant Association, one of the few restaurant associations to provide assistance in advance of the new gun laws. Those colors, the Texas Department of Public Safety mandates, must be contrasting. The lettering must be block, and at least one-inch high, for maximum legibility, with the notice in both English and Spanish, posted “conspicuously” at the entrance to the business itself. Any sign that isn’t absolutely perfect, down to the letter, will be null and void.

I would note that State Rep. Diego Bernal of San Antonio has taken it upon himself to help businesses who want to opt out on open carry by printing signs that conform to all of the mandated requirements, which he is providing free of charge. Perhaps one or more of our local legislators could follow that example – I’m sure plenty of businesses would appreciate it. Regardless, I wonder how long it will take before some establishments use open carry as a marketing tool, catering to whatever side they think represents a bigger opportunity for them. I feel reasonably confident saying that there will be more than a few establishments in my neighborhood that feature these signs, and that more than a few of them will not be shy about advertising themselves as such. Should be fascinating to watch.

On a tangential matter:

During a panel [recently] addressing Texas’s new open-carry law, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, and City Attorney Donna Edmunson encouraged citizens to ask as many questions as possible.

Mostly, they asked McClelland and Anderson to consider a myriad of hypothetical situations.

For example, many asked, what if you’re just sitting on a bench at a park with your gun in your holster, and some concerned “mad mom” calls the police on you because she and her kids are alarmed by the very presence of your gun? Are the police really going to detain you and ask that you show your CHL even though you’re just sitting on the bench eating a ham sandwich? Isn’t that a bit invasive?

The resounding answer from McClelland and Anderson, to all of the above types of questions, was basically this: we understand your concerns, but you’re just going to have to deal with it.

Chances are, they explained, you’re going to come across a CHL holder openly carrying his or her gun inside of a Walmart, a Taco Bell, a JCPenny (not a Whataburger, which already said it’s not going to allow guns inside). And chances are, for CHL holders, a police officer is going to ask you to show your license once someone’s kids get scared and they call 911, and you’ll just have to comply, because that’s the law—even if you’re just sitting on a bench eating a sandwich.

This is going to be so much fun, isn’t it? There are already plenty of disagreements about what this law means and what if any restrictions can be legally enforced in various places. I suspect the courts are going to be very busy next year, and the Lege will be back to revisit this in 2017.

Rep. McClendon to step down

She’ll be missed.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, a San Antonio Democrat and 19-year veteran of the Texas House who tenaciously championed social justice reform, said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election.

McClendon was elected in 1996 to represent East Side voters in House District 120 and has emerged as a fixture in the Legislature as the dean of the Bexar County delegation.

However, McClendon’s health has been an ongoing concern. She was diagnosed in 2009 with stage 4 lung cancer and underwent surgery to remove water from her brain last year.

Her fragile physical state was emphasized during the latest legislative session when she relied on an electric scooter to navigate the Capitol and had noticeable trouble speaking.

In a statement, McClendon said she plans to stay in office until her term expires in December 2016 but that “it is time for someone else to take up the mantle.”

“Although I will not return to the Legislature in 2017,” she said, “I will still be engaged to ensure that the issues I have fought for will have a voice.”

[…]

McClendon has possibly become best known for her quest to have the state study wrongful prison convictions. She achieved the long-time goal during the last legislative session to create a commission to study exonerations, a triumph that helped earn her recognition from Texas Monthly as one of 2015’s best lawmakers.

Lawmakers said McClendon’s presence will be missed.

“Ruth is not only the dean of our delegation, she’s also our Capitol mother. Knowing that she’s not coming back is something that’s going to be hard to overcome,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat. “She’s always been the leader of our delegation, but now its time for her to make sure she’s taking care of her health and her family.”

All respect to Rep. McClendon, who has battled health issues for several years but went out on a high note this session with the passage of that exoneration commission bill. Go read the story at the end of that post linked above; if it doesn’t make you at least a little misty, you might want to adjust your meds. Her departure means that the ten-member Bexar County House delegation will have at least four members who were not there this past January – Rep. Diego Bernal, the successor to Mike Villarreal, who resigned to run for Mayor; Rep. Ina Minjarez, who won a special election for the seat vacated by now-Sen. Jose Rodriguez; and whoever follows the retiring Reps. McClendon and Joe Farias. If the Dems win back HD117 in this Presidential-turnout year, that will be half of the delegation turned over. Getting some new blood is always good, but losing such distinguished veterans is hard. I wish Rep. McClendon all the best as she enters the next phase of her life. The Trib has more.

More thoughts on the special election results

There has been very little news about the four legislative special elections that were decided last week, other than the brief hubbub over what the result in SD26 meant. Among other things, I’ve been looking for any kind of reporting on the results in the other three races, as well as on the fact that there will need to be yet another special election to fill Sen.-elect Jose Menendez’s seat in HD124. This Trib story about Sen. Leticia Van de Putte’s upcoming departure from the upper chamber to focus on her race for Mayor of San Antonio contains the first tidbit of news concerning any of that I’ve seen:

Sen.-elect José Menéndez, who was on the floor on Tuesday, won the race for Van de Putte’s Senate seat on Feb. 17 and is set to be sworn in on March 5.

Sen. Jose Menendez

RG Ratcliffe also wrote about VdP’s good-bye if you want more of that. Me, I want more on the other stuff. If Menendez won’t be seated will next Thursday, that means the clock won’t start ticking for a special election to be called in HD124 until then. That puts such an election in April at least, and unless someone wins it outright it pretty much guarantees that whoever succeeds Menendez won’t be seated until there’s precious little left to do in this session. That said, there will almost surely be a special election sometime next year to (one hopes) fix school finance, so the stakes will still be as high as ever. I have not seen any names floating around as possible candidates for HD124, so if you know something I don’t know, please leave a comment and enlighten us.

One thing I’d like to add to my earlier commentary on the SD26 runoff: As much as I downplayed the pronouncements about that election being “decided” by Republican voters and bad actors like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, there is no question that some number of Republicans voted in that runoff. And why shouldn’t they? This wasn’t a primary, and the winner would be representing them, too. You may recall that just because the Houston City Council At Large #3 runoff in 2013 was between two Republicans doesn’t mean Democrats weren’t involved or courted by both sides. Quite the contrary, in fact. Some number of Republicans voted in the SD26 runoff. It’s likely that they went heavily for Menendez, and it’s entirely possible that they made up a good chunk of his margin of victory, if not all of it. The problem with making statements about this is that we have no “normal” election to compare this one to. For all we know, the number of Republicans voting in that runoff was about what it should have been expected to be. We don’t know, because the conditions for this election were unique, and will never be replicated. We can compare November elections, in Presidential years and not, and make statements about the partisan mix and whether a given cycle was remarkable in some way. We can’t do that here because there’s no other election like it. It stands on its own.

As for the other elections, however you feel about SD26 I think you should consider the election of Diego Bernal in HD123 a reason to celebrate. Bernal is like Rep. Martinez-Fischer in style and tenacity, and will be a more progressive voice in that district than Mike Villarreal, who cast himself as a moderate, business-friendly type. Having said that, I should note that Villarreal was in many ways “conservative” the way Menendez was “conservative”. It shows up much more in tone and rhetoric than it does in voting records. Villarreal’s record, at least in 2013, compares quite well – an A+ from Equality Texas, a 93% from the TLCV, and another nice, round zero from Texas Right to Life. Villarreal was more business-friendly, and I’m sure his fans and detractors could point to some votes he made that stood out from the caucus. His style is not like Diego Bernal’s has been, and especially if you were a TMF supporter in this special election, that should make you feel good.

The HD17 runoff was in a way a mirror image of the SD26 runoff, with the candidate who emphasized his crossover appeal emerging as the winner. That was a much closer election, and I have to wonder if the TLR crowd regrets not going all in on it. If John Cyrier had lost after running that campaign and being the big leader in round one, the articles about What It All Means pretty much write themselves. I’m a little surprised no one has taken this race and used it to run with a “Republican moderation” narrative. Assuming he doesn’t get primaried out in 2016, Cyrier ought to have a bright future under Speaker Straus.

And as for HD13, it remains as under-reported and mysterious as ever. Here’s a little factoid for you to consider: Rep.-elect Leighton Schubert defeated runnerup Carolyn Bilski in all but two counties in the runoff. One of them was Austin County, where Bilski had previously served as County Judge. Bilski had won a clear majority in Austin County in January, against three opponents. Schubert doubled his vote total in Austin County in a month, and it was enough to slip past her there. How in the world did that happen? Even more remarkable is the margin in Burleson County, Schubert’s home, which he won by the ridiculous total of 1,181 to 72. That’s the kind of margin you expect to see in a race featuring a major party candidate against a Green or Libertarian. Schubert won Burleson big in January as well, but with 75% of the vote, not almost 95%. Again, how does that happen? It sure would be nice if some professional reporter tried to figure that out.

Views differ on SD26

From Campos.

Before the State Senate District 26 Special started, Rep. José Menéndez and fellow Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer were both good elected officials and good Democrats. This morning they are still good elected officials and good Democrats. Somebody had to win.

I have to admit I was kind of surprised with last night’s results. I guess Sen.-Elect Menéndez ran a better and smarter campaign.

Then this was tweeted last night:


I don’t know if the media is saying it was a Dem loss. I think some Dem activists might be saying it was a Dem loss. You can’t deny that the Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) folks are feeling pretty good this morning. TLR racked up a decisive victory in Dem territory.

And then this tweet from Harold Cook:


How about played better and smarter?

Who might be saying it was a Dem loss? Well, BOR for one.

Sen. Jose Menendez

Last night, State Rep. Jose Menendez scored what has largely been viewed as an upset over State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, winning 59% to 41% in a special election to replace Senator Leticia Van de Putte in SD-26.

While Menendez and Martinez Fischer have both held office as Democrats and ran for the Senate as the same, Menendez’s win has been credited in part to his support from GOP voters and groups that traditionally back Republicans.

Martinez Fischer led going into the runoff by 18%, after 19,019 votes were cast in the first round in January. Curiously, more votes were cast in the run-off for a total of 23,523, which saw Menendez go from 4,824 votes good for 25.36% to 13,888 votes amounting to 59% of the tally while Martinez Fischer increased his share from 8,232 votes to 9,635 in the run-off.

So how did Menendez do it? Apparently, with Republican support.

Christopher Hooks and Ross Ramsey also buy into this logic. I don’t know about that. Remember, SD26 wasn’t the only runoff in San Antonio on Tuesday. HD123 was also happening. That district is almost entirely within SD26. If there was an unusual influx of Republican turnout in SD26, you’d think it might have had an effect on the HD123 race as well. Except that while Sen. Menendez was clobbering TMF, Diego Bernal was outperforming President Obama by three points, in a district that’s actually a teeny bit less Democratic than SD26 overall and a special election runoff, which as both Hooks and Ramsey note had lousy turnout. If there were a disproportionate number of Republicans voting in the SD26 race, why doesn’t it show up in the HD123 race as well? Does it make sense that all these Republican voters would also support Diego Bernal, an unabashed liberal whose opponent had Greg Abbott campaigning for him? It doesn’t to me. Yet none of the writers advancing the “Menendez won with GOP support” theory even mentions HD123. Sorry, but you all get an “incomplete” on that assignment. Get back to me when you’ve addressed all the evidence.

As for Menendez being more “conservative” than average, according to Mark Jones’ magic formula, I have to ask: Can someone point me to a single consequential bill, on a subject Democratic voters care about, in which Menendez was an outlier? I’m sure something exists, but we all know who the troublemakers have been in the caucus, and Menendez’s name is not one that usually comes up. He voted against the sonogram bill in 2011. He scored a 92% on the 2013 TLCV scorecard, which was not only slightly above the Democratic average of 91%, it was also higher than TMF’s score of 86%. (The difference was a vote on SB 219, House Amendment #2: Resign to Run.) He got an A on the 2013 Equality Texas scorecard, same as TMF. He scored a nice, fat zero on the 2013 Texas Right to Life scorecard. He went to Ardmore in 2003. What am I missing here? Yes, TMF is loud and proud, and the Republicans justifiably hated him. But what are the substantive differences between them? That’s what I care about, and as far as I can tell no one can say what it is.

(OK, I can think of one difference: Labor. The Texas AFL-CIO supported TMF over Menendez in the race. I couldn’t find a scorecard for them, so I can’t quantify the difference. I can, however, quote from Ed Sills’ daily email from last night: “Menendez is no foe of labor – not by a long shot – and we don’t expect him to become one as a Senator. The Texas AFL-CIO raised no criticism of Menendez during the campaign; our materials were a positive promotion of the Martinez Fischer candidacy. We wish Sen.-elect Menendez well as he crosses over to the east side of the dome.” So again I ask: Where’s the beef?)

My point is that it’s not like the Dems just elected an Allan Ritter, or a pinche cabron like Aaron Pena. Honestly, the whole reason why this campaign – much like the one in SD06 in 2013 – was nasty and personal and not about actual issues is because there isn’t that much substantive difference between the two. I’m going to refer you to Jonathan Tilove for a good view on what happened in this race.

A lot of charges and counter charges were swapped between the old friends, but in the end, the terms of engagement, and what separated the two, was generally agreed upon and revolved around their opposite political temperaments, and the political posture Democrats – and particularly Hispanic Democrats – ought to strike in a state where they are now, but not likely forever, on the outs.

[…]

TMF is a talented politician. He has proved to be an important figure in the workings of the House, where he will remain. It would have been something beyond kabuki if he had landed in Dan Patrick’s Senate. This loss won’t kill him. All the greats – Nixon, Clinton, Obama – suffered devastating losses on their way to their destiny. He wants to play on the big stage. But the lesson of last night may be that, even on his home turf, his edges may be too rough, at least until the day that confrontational style demonstrably revs up Hispanic turnout.

That sounds right to me. And while TLR may have achieved their goal of making the Senate slightly more amenable to them, it will be a simple enough matter to keep track of Sen. Menendez’s actual votes, and challenge him in a Democratic primary if he loses his way. Which, to be clear, I don’t expect will be needed. My view is that Sen. Menendez did a better job turning out his voters, and won the argument about what style would better represent the district. And now we wait to see when the special election to fill his HD124 seat will be called and who will run for it.

Special election runoff results

Here you go, from the Secretary of State webpage.

SD26 Trey Martinez Fischer 9,623 40.95% Jose Menendez 13,888 59.04% HD123 Diego Bernal 5,170 63.66% Nunzio Previtera 2,950 36.33% HD13 Carolyn Cerny Bilski 4,763 42.85% Leighton Schubert 6,350 57.14% HD17 John Cyrier 4,149 52.06% Brent Golemon 3,820 47.93%

Sen. Jose Menendez

Here are stories from the Trib and Rivard Report. As usual, I can’t find a damn thing about HDs 13 or 17. I’ll do another Google News search today and see if anything comes up, and will either add them to this post or do a new one later.

Obviously, the biggest surprise to me is the Menendez/Martinez-Fischer result. I mean, I had suggested that Menendez take one for the team and drop out, in the face of TMF’s big lead and in the interest of getting the next special election, to fill the to-be-vacated legislative seat, done as quickly as possible. So it’s fair to say I didn’t see this coming. Maybe that TLR money made a difference, or maybe Menendez just had a better ground game in overtime. Either way, I congratulate Sen.-elect Jose Menendez, and apologize to him for my disturbing lack of faith.

Rep. Leighton Schubert

The other surprise is in HD13, where newcomer Leighton Schubert had an easy time of it against Carolyn Bilski. Schubert trailed by less than 11 points in Round One, and he had a decent grassroots fundraising base, so his win isn’t that big a surprise, but any time a newcomer defeats a seasoned veteran with broad establishment backing, it’s an upset. Congratulations, Rep.-elect Leighton Schubert.

HD123 was a satisfying result, with numbers that look like they likely would in a Presidential year. The first press release that hit my inbox after the polls closed was from the SEIU reveling in this outcome, and I join them in congratulating Rep.-elect Diego Bernal. I expect big things out of you, sir.

The result in HD17 is a good one, as anytime a less-conservative Republican beats a wingnut, it’s a victory. It was the one close race, and for a few moments there as the numbers trickled in it looked like it could have gone the other way, but in the end the better candidate won. Congratulations, Rep.-elect John Cyrier.

Finally, as you know, this isn’t quite the end of it. With his win, Sen. Menendez will vacate his seat in HD124, and you know what that means: One more special election, with a runoff a lively possibility to follow. At this point, I have no idea who might be lining up for that race. He or she may not get sworn in until there isn’t much left to do in the session, depending on when Greg Abbott sets the next election date and whether or not two rounds are needed. I will of course keep an eye on that. In the meantime, we can all take a breath. Congratulations again to all the winners. Get some sleep, and get ready to get to work.

Early voting is up in the special election runoffs

Make of that what you will.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

If three days of early voting are any indication, the tense runoff fight for the state Senate 26 seat between Trey Martinez-Fischer and José Menéndez is attracting more voters than cast ballots in the first round election on Jan. 6, the result of record spending in the campaign that has pitted two Bexar County Democratic members of the House against one another in the fight to succeed departing Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for mayor.

The Jan. 6 state Senate ballot included two Republicans, Alma Perez Jackson and Joan Pedrotti, and a third Democrat, Al Suarez. Voter turnout was a miserable 5%. The five candidates in the first round drew only 19,158 voters, including 8,215 early voters. Martinez-Fischer finished well ahead of Menéndez and the others with 8,231 votes, or 43.28%. Menéndez finished a distant second with 4,824 votes, or 25.37%.

Special elections seldom draw many voters, and in most cases, a runoff would draw even fewer voters with one party knocked off the ballot. This time it’s different. A total of 6,977 people voted in the first three days of early voting this week, which continues today and Friday. At the current pace, that would add up to more than 11,000 early votes, or a 35% increase in the early turnout. If the same increased turnout occurs on Election Day the race will draw more than 25,000 voters, still a low percentage of registered voters, but enough of an increase to suggest a tight race.

You know I can’t turn down an opportunity like that to do some number-crunching. I looked at all the special legislative elections that included runoffs since 2010. Here are their respective vote totals:

Election Total Runoff Pct ===================================== SD22 5/10 29,851 24,557 82.3 HD14 11/11 13,519 6,736 49.8 SD06 1/13 16,369 18,141 110.8 HD50 11/13 14,936 10,520 70.4 SD04 5/14 30,348 22,605 74.5

“Pct” is the ratio of runoff turnout to total Round One turnout. Note that two of these special elections coincided with regular November elections, so it’s not terribly surprising that those runoffs lagged the most. Note also that the special election in SD06 in 2013 to succeed the late Mario Gallegos had higher turnout in the runoff than it did in the first round. That’s also the only race among these that was between two prominent Democrats, and as is the case this year it featured a nasty, negative overtime period. Not enough data to draw a firm conclusion, but the parallels are easy enough to see.

Having said all that, I kind of buried the lede a bit.

The increased turnout appears to be driven by negative campaigning and the role of outside money that aims to rally Republicans to cross party lines and vote for Menéndez. What’s different about this race is the role the powerful Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), an ultra-conservative lobby, is playing, contributing more than $550,000 to finance broadcast ads and direct mail pieces attacking Martinez Fischer and supporting Menéndez. The Express-News reported Tuesday that more than $2.3 million has been spent on the race, including the TLR money that actually exceeds the $513,000 that Menéndez has spent to date.

[…]

Martinez-Fischer is a plaintiff’s lawyer and a vocal, at times coarsely spoken Mexican-American. He looks and sounds like a boxer. Menéndez, also a lawyer, is softer spoken and less combative. People who watch Austin politics more closely than I say newly elected Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick would prefer to keep Martinez-Fischer out of the Senate, which is now a bastion of ultra-conservative Republicans, who now outnumber Democrats 20-11. Regardless of the runoff outcome, the winner will be the least senior of the minority party, but Martinez-Fischer would be a thorn in Patrick’s side, while Menéndez has said he would cross party lines to try to be effective.

I’ve said all along that TMF was my preferred candidate in this race. I had and continue to have nothing against Menendez, and I seriously doubt he’d be any more supportive of the evil trolls that make up TLR if he wins than he was in the House. But maybe he’ll be a little more supportive of them than TMF would be, and a couple hundred thousand bucks isn’t even pocket change to these guys, so all in they go. (They were a presence in the SD06 race as well, much as head lice is a presence in most elementary schools.) The point I’m making here is that even though this runoff is to them a choice between two candidates with whom they have little in common, they didn’t sit it out. They picked their lesser evil and did what they do to support him, in the hope that if it pays off, they’ll have an ever-so-slightly better Senate from their perspective. Say what you want about these guys – and believe me, I think they’re a greedy, rapacious, destructive force, too – it’s hard to argue that their approach had been anything but a big success. There may be a lesson in there for us somewhere, I dunno.

Anyway. It’s hard to know what effect this may have on the HD123 runoff, as HD123 is almost entirely within SD26. Like SD26, most Dems won HD123 by about ten points in 2010, the main exceptions being Bill White, who won it by more than 20 points, and Barbara Radnofsky, who lost it by a half point to Greg Abbott. I expect Diego Bernal to win easily enough, but one should never take anything for granted. Get out there and vote if you didn’t already do so. As for HDs 13 and 17, other than this report on campaign finances in HD17, there’s precious little news out there. I’ll have final results when they come in.

Early voting for special election runoffs has begun

EarlyVoting

It began yesterday, but I forgot to queue up a post in time to mention it. Here’s some relevant information for those of you who need to get out and vote in one or more of these runoffs.

For SD26 and HD123, here are the Bexar County early voting locations. The Bexar County Elections page is here as well.

For HD17, here are the early voting locations for Bastrop County, Caldwell County, and Lee County. The Bastrop County Elections page is here, and they already have Election Day voting locations up as well. Both the Caldwell and Lee pages have early voting and election day locations. As for Karnes County and Gonzales County, you’ll need to call the elections administrators for information, as you had to do for the January election.

For HD13, here are the early voting locations for Burleson County, Colorado County, Fayette County, Grimes County, Lavaca County, and Washington County. All of those pages also have Election Day locations, except for Fayette and Washington. I could not find information for Austin County, so call the elections administrator there for the scoop.

Googling around on the candidates’ names, I found basically zero new information since the original election, except for a couple of stories relating to the SD26 runoff. The only endorsements I found, as was the case in January, was from the Express News, which reiterated their choices from the first round.

In the Senate race, we recommend Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer to replace mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte.

The district will be in good hands regardless of who wins the showdown between Martinez Fischer and Rep. José Menéndez. Both Democrats who have been in the House since 2001.

But Martinez Fischer’s strong leadership ability unequivocally makes him the right choice for the Senate.

[…]

We strongly encourage voters to cast their ballots for former City Councilman Diego Bernal, who faces Republican Nunzio Previtera.

Bernal represented San Antonio’s City Council District 1 from 2011 until resigning late last year to seek the House seat. During his tenure at City Hall, Bernal showed courage by successfully sponsoring a highly controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that provided new protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

The 38-year-old Bernal also played a lead role in creating an advisory panel to study the future of Alamo Plaza. The city has failed to nurture the downtown asset, and Bernal’s efforts have revived hope for real improvements. This is an issue of statewide importance.

They also had a recent story about how Bexar Dems are dismayed by the negativity in the all-Dem SD26 runoff. Those of us who remember the SD06 special election from two years ago feel their pain. I figure turnout will be less than or equal to the first round, so if you live in any of these districts, your vote counts for a lot. There are no Dems in either HD17 or HD13, but John Cyrier and Carolyn Bilski are backed by the Texas Parent PAC, and Cyrier’s opponent in particular is aligned with the likes of Empower Texans, so even without a home team there’s still a rooting interest. I’ll keep an eye on the voting as we go. The Rivard Report has more.

First three runoff dates are set

Greg Abbott completes a bit of business left to him by Rick Perry.

Diego Bernal

Diego Bernal

Gov. Greg Abbott has scheduled runoffs from the Jan. 6 special elections for Feb. 17, according to his office.

The decision officially sets head-to-head match-ups in state Senate District 26, state House District 17 and state House District 123. Early voting in the runoffs will be held from Feb. 9-13.

In SD 26, two Democrats — Trey Martinez Fischer and Jose Menendez — are facing off for the seat being vacated by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. In HD 17, Republicans John Cyrier and Brent Golemon are vying to replace Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington. And in HD 123, Democrat Diego Bernal is up against Republican Nunzio Previtera for the seat formerly held by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

As you may recall from the January 6 election, TMF, Bernal, and Cyrier all led in their races, each collecting at least 43% and leading by a minimum of 18 points. No lead is ever insurmountable in a runoff, but I’d have to make them all strong favorites. Cyrier and Bernal are endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC, while Bernal and TMF have the backing of the San Antonio Central Labor Council and Texas AFL-CIO COPE. Bernal’s opponent in particular is a nut, so I especially look forward to him winning.

This means that the runoff for the HD13 special election will be scheduled separately, presumably a week later. Seems to me it would have made more sense to put all four of them together, but I guess that election hadn’t been canvassed yet. I’ll keep my eyes open for that announcement. The Rivard Report has more.

On playing small ball

Campos reacts to Mayor Parker’s future statewide plans.

SmallBall

And here again is my small ball take from a few weeks ago:

It is time for small ball instead of the big inning.

In baseball, small ball is a strategy where you manufacture runs by utilizing the bunt, stealing bases, the hit and run, walks, hitting behind the runner, and contact hitting. You have to use this strategy if your offense is short of bashers. The big inning is a strategy where you rely heavily on the extra base hit, the walks, dingers, and have the capability of scoring a lot of runs in an inning. You need to have a lineup that includes a few power hitters and fence swingers.

Moving forward, Dems in the Lone Star State should consider utilizing the small ball strategy. We need to look at where we can pick up a run here and there. Let’s look at the map and see here we have a shot at a legislative seat, a county commissioner, county judgeship, district judgeship, county clerk, JP, constable – you get the picture. In a state with 254 counties, don’t tell me there are not any opportunities.

We are not ready for big inning play and I am not talking about a lack of quality statewide candidates. We had a good slate this past go-around. We just didn’t have the weapons to swing for the fences – a solid, organized, and energetic base. We build the base by playing small ball and picking up a run here and there. That’s how you manufacture some Ws.

Maybe the Mayor is thinking the statewide political environment will dramatically be altered in two or four years. Maybe she thinks the GOP in charge of our state government will run our state into the ground and the voters will be ready for the Mayor’s leadership. Of course, the GOP has been running the state for ten years now and they have only gotten more votes. Or maybe she has the confidence she can put together a big inning style campaign. I don’t know about that. Maybe she just wants to make sure that her name stays out there in the mix along with all the other politicos that have gotten previous statewide potential mention.

All I can say is get on out to places like Lufkin, Brownwood, Raymondville, Sherman, and Odessa and see if folks are interested.

Three thoughts:

1. I agree that there needs to be an increased focus on local elections, and have said so previously. I would simply note that there’s no need to wait until 2016 for this. There are plenty of elections this year that need attention, and anything we can do to get our people into a habit of voting outside of Presidential years will be a good thing. The May elections in Pasadena and Plano, where I’m sure some Council members will need defending, will require involvement. It would also be nice to see a worthy successor elected to fill Diego Bernal’s Council seat in San Antonio. Here in Houston, CM Richard Nguyen in District F made a courageous vote in favor of the HERO last year, and will be running for re-election having come out as a Democrat in a district that hasn’t elected anyone of the Democratic persuasion in my memory. He deserves our support, and if we’re not rallying to his side then there’s something wrong with us. The two open At Large seats – three if CM Christie decides to run for Mayor – are opportunities to elect strong progressive voices. If we want to act locally, there’s no time like the present.

2. As far as 2016 goes, if we are interested in trying to gain some ground at the county level, I would note that that is what the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC) was created to do. I don’t know where things stand with that now – I suspect they got lost in the shuffle last year – but the point is that some work in identifying potential downballot targets has already been done. If there’s nothing left of the TCDCC to speak of, then frankly this is a place where Battleground Texas could step in and do some good. Crunch the numbers, identify some opportunities, share the information, and work with the locals to find and support good candidates. And if not the TCDCC or BGTX, then I don’t know who else. It’s easy to talk about this stuff. Actually doing it is a lot harder.

Here in Harris County, there are a few elections of interest for 2016. Winning back HD144, hopefully with a plan to not fumble it away again in 2018, is a priority. I still believe there is ground to be gained in HDs 132 and 135, perhaps more as a long-term investment. Countywide, we’ll have Ogg v. Anderson 2.0 for DA, someone to run for Tax Assessor, and depending on what Adrian Garcia decides to do, possibly a Sheriff’s office to win back or hold. If we want to think big – and I see no reason why playing small ball means thinking small – there’s Steve Radack’s seat on Commissioners Court. Precinct 4 was about 60-40 red in 2012, but if we’re serious about growing the vote here, that’s where a lot of untapped voters are going to be. We can wait around until he decides to retire, whenever that may be, or we can take a shot at it. You tell me what you would prefer.

3. As a reminder, there are no statewide elections in 2016 other than one Railroad Commissioner spot and the judicial races. As was the case last year, there won’t be much action in the legislative races, even with more attention on HD144. District Attorney, maybe Sheriff, and at a lower level Tax Assessor are the only countywide races that will draw interest, though perhaps if someone steps up to run against Steve Radack that will make a bit of noise. Obviously, there’s the Presidential race, and it is always the main driver of turnout, but what I’m saying is that as things stand right now, that will be even more the case in 2016. Barring anything unexpected, that means Team Hillary, which in turn means Battleground Texas, since the two are so closely intertwined. I don’t know what is going to happen to BGTX, and I don’t know how people are going to feel about them in another 18 or 20 months. What I do know is that we will have a better outcome, here and elsewhere in the state, if we – all of us, everyone – can find some way to work together rather than work at cross purposes. I personally don’t care who’s in charge, or who gets the credit when there is credit to be had. As Benjamin Franklin once said, if we do not hang together we will surely hang separately. It’s up to us what path we take.

More on the three legislative runoffs

From the Chron/Express News on the Bexar County races.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

In the Senate contest, Martinez Fischer and Menéndez, both D-San Antonio, are vying to replace District 26 state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who’s exiting the Legislature to run for mayor of San Antonio.

“I think I’m in a very good spot,” Martinez Fischer said late Tuesday, adding he reserved funds to wage a competitive runoff race. Menéndez finished nearly 20 percentage points behind Martinez Fischer, who was targeted for defeat by Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

“Now it’s a brand new race,” Menéndez said.

In the race to replace another San Antonio mayoral candidate, state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, the two top vote-getters were former Councilman Diego Bernal and Republican Nunzio Previtera, who serves on the State Republican Executive Committee.

Bernal, a civil rights attorney, missed an outright victory by a handful of percentage points. Previtera, an insurance firm owner in his first bid for office, trailed in second place with about half the votes that Bernal had garnered.

The two rose from a crowded six-candidate field that included two other Democrats – Melissa Aguillon and Walter Martinez. Libertarian Roger Gary and Green Party candidate Paul Ingmundson accounted for less than 3 percent of the overall vote.

Bernal said he and his team would soon regroup to build a game plan for the runoff election. On Tuesday, he offered thanks to those who pushed him to the No. 1 spot.

“I’m humbled by the support I’ve received. I’m almost embarrassed by the amount of work people have put in on my behalf,” he said. “Honestly, it always felt very competitive and I am proud of the work I’ve done with the community, and I plan to do more when I’m a state representative.”

Previtera said campaigning for the runoff starts Wednesday.

“I think we have a very good opportunity to win a runoff election,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is the voters in HD 123 are not like the voters all across the city.”

Many of the district’s residents, he said, make less than $30,000 a year and share the same core values as the GOP – they just don’t know it. Voters there cast ballots for Democrats because that’s what their parents did, Previtera said.

“They don’t realize that many of them, if their parents were still alive today, they’d be voting Republican,” he said.

By law, the runoff must take place within 45 days of the results being canvassed, which in practice should mean by February 21. As I said before, there’s a case to be made for Rep. Menendez to drop out instead of going to the runoff. Menendez trails TMF by about 18 points, which isn’t insurmountable – Borris Miles trailed Al Edwards 48.18 to 32.76 in the 2006 Democratic primary for HD146 and won in the runoff – but it’s a steep hill to climb, especially given that the bulk of the remaining votes went to the two Republican candidates. Menendez could try to persuade some Republicans that he’d be better for them in SD26 than TMF would be, not an unreasonable argument but one that must be made delicately if one doesn’t want to piss off one’s own base. He could try to bring back more of his voters to the runoff than TMF does, and he could try to bring out some folks who didn’t participate in Round One, which might be doable now that the holidays are over. Maybe.

You have to weigh the odds of success against the stark reality of the calendar: The day after the runoff there’s another legislative vacancy that would need to be filled. That special election would likely be at the end of March, and if there’s a runoff needed, which seems like a good bet, it might not happen till the first week of May or so. Against that, if Menendez concedes and TMF resigns his legislative seat to move up, the special election in HD116 would likely be in early to mid-February, with a runoff in mid to late March. That’s a big difference in terms of when a lot of the action happens, and when a lot of key votes need to be cast. If we want to beat back regressive constitutional amendments, we will need all hands on deck.

I recognize that what I’m saying here is that Rep. Menendez might consider taking one for the team. I want to be clear that he is in no way obligated to do so. If he believes, as I’m sure he does, that he has a path to victory, then by all means he should fight on. I have nothing but respect for Rep. Menendez and wish him good luck. For better or worse, the calendar is what it is. It could be a factor in how this session plays out. I feel it is worthwhile to point that out.

As for the HD123 runoff, putting aside Previtera’s adorable invocation of that old Reagan chestnut about Latinos being Republicans that just haven’t figured it out yet, I would note that 75% of the vote cast in that race was for Democrats. Good luck finding a way to 50% plus one with that.

Meanwhile, in HD17:

Cyrier and Golemon might be from the same party, but they come from different corners of the GOP.

Cyrier, who started the contracting firm Sabre Commercial and who served on the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court, boasts the support of some Democrats and says he is ready to reach across the aisle to govern.

Meanwhile, Golemon sees himself as the more conservative choice, he said. An entrepreneur and the son of a high-dollar lobbyist, Golemon doesn’t have a record to run on, but his campaign consultant, Luke Macias, has a reputation for helping to elect some of the Legislature’s most conservative and tea party-backed members.

Both Golemon and Cyrier have said they would focus on protecting water resources in the district, if elected.

Golemon’s website says he also wants to pass legislation dealing with education, securing the border, advancing Second Amendment rights and opposing the Affordable Care Act.

Cyrier’s other priorities include improving the state transportation system and funding public education, he said.

Like I said, not a pickup opportunity, but it’s clear what the better outcome is at this point. Now we await word of the runoff date.

All special elections will go to runoffs

From the Bexar County Elections webpage:

STATE SENATOR, DISTRICT 26 VOTE FOR 1 Votes Pct (WITH 322 OF 322 PRECINCTS COUNTED) Al Suarez (DEM) . . . . . . . . 644 3.39 Alma Perez Jackson (REP) . . . . . 3,892 20.46 Joan Pedrotti (REP) . . . . . . . 1,427 7.50 Jose Menendez (DEM) . . . . . . . 4,824 25.37 Trey Martinez Fischer (DEM) . . . . 8,231 43.28 STATE REPRESENTATIVE, DISTRICT 123 VOTE FOR 1 Votes Pct (WITH 96 OF 96 PRECINCTS COUNTED) Roger V. Gary (LIB) . . . . . . . 103 1.45 Melissa Aguillon (DEM) . . . . . . 1,257 17.69 Diego Bernal (DEM) . . . . . . . 3,372 47.46 Walter Martinez (DEM) . . . . . . 780 10.98 Nunzio Previtera (REP) . . . . . . 1,512 21.28 Paul Ingmundson (GRN) . . . . . . 81 1.14

So it’s TMF versus Menendez in SD26, and Diego Bernal versus Nunzio Previtera in HD123. One could make a case for Menendez to drop out, so that the inevitably vacant legislative seat, presumed to be TMF’s given his advantage in Round One, can be filled as quickly as possible. I don’t know if anyone will make that case, and even if someone does I don’t know that Menendez would, or should, be receptive to it. He isn’t trailing by that much, though his path to victory isn’t clear. I expect there will be a runoff, followed by that inevitable subsequent special election. We’ll see. As for HD123, a solid showing by Bernal. I like his chances in the runoff there.

And for HD17, from the Secretary of State:

State Representative District 17 Votes Pct Shelley Cartier DEM 290 3.80% Linda Curtis IND 1,046 13.71% John Cyrier REP 3,515 46.10% Brent Golemon REP 1,866 24.47% Ty McDonald DEM 907 11.89%

And it’s Cyrier versus Golemon, so no pickup opportunity. Cyrier is the ParentPAC candidate, so if you want to root for someone, he’s the choice. Runoffs should be in about six weeks. I’ll have more in the next day or so.

Special elections roundup

I haven’t seen any newspaper endorsements in the special elections that will conclude on Tuesday. I can tell you that the Texas Parent PAC has endorsed Diego Bernal in HD123 and John Cyrier in HD17. In the absence of further endorsements to report on, here’s a news roundup based on Google searches of the various candidates.

In SD26, it’s all about the money.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

A powerful special interest group that has contributed millions of dollars mostly to state Republicans over the years is targeting Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer’s bid to fill a vacant Senate seat.

And now Martinez Fischer is attempting to draw connections between the group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and his main opponent in the race, Democratic state Rep. José Menéndez.

TLR is the richest and most influential tort reform group in the state, and its political action committee has already spent close to $180,000 to influence Tuesday’s special election in District 26, state records show. That includes research and polling, along with TV ads and mailers blasting Martinez Fischer.

In a campaign memo released Wednesday, Martinez Fischer leveled his strongest public accusations to date about links to the group and Menéndez, claiming the head of TLR has personally made calls to help Menéndez and to “thwart” Martinez Fischer’s own fundraising efforts.

Martinez Fischer, in the memo, goes on to note that TLR contract lobbyist Ed Lopez was named earlier this month as part of the Menéndez finance team and then claims another unnamed lobbyist working for the group recently held a fundraiser for Menéndez.

[…]

“In my estimation, José’s relationship with TLR is obvious,” Martinez Fischer says in the memo.

On Wednesday, Menéndez remained steadfast that he’s not in cahoots with the group.

“It is obvious to me that Trey is desperate to try to create a connection between TLR and myself that doesn’t’ exist,” he said. “We’re running our campaign, and we’re not in a position that we feel like we need any help from outside sources.”

Menéndez also said that Lopez, the TLR lobbyist Martinez Fischer cited in his memo, is a personal friend dating back to his days on San Antonio City Council, and that “he’s a supporter of mine because he believes in me as a person.”

TMF has greatly outraised Menendez, though a lot of his donations have been non-local. Both candidates are spending heavily on TV ads. When the first order of business is to make sure people are aware that there is an election going on in the first place, you do what you have to do.

Meanwhile, the candidates in HD123 are trying to be heard over that volume.

The ballot includes three Democrats: businesswoman Melissa Aguillon, former San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal, and Walter Martinez, also a former city councilman, who served in the Texas House in the ’80s.

The lone Republican is insurance agent Nunzio Previtera. Clinical psychologist Paul Ingmundson is the Green Party candidate, while Libertarian Roger Gary rounds out the ballot.

Gary, like the others, has education reform high on his list. He wants to get back to the basics, like, he says, teaching basic math. ”I’ve asked some other people who say they’re doing it all on computers; people’s grammar and spelling and math, let’s get back to those basics. That’s what we need. The rest of the stuff they’re squabbling about, what’s in a high school history book? Well, who cares if they can’t read and write.”

Republican Nunzio Previtera wants schools to put as much emphasis on vocational training as they do on college preparation. “The primary goal of our school system needs to be to provide our students with opportunities to prosper as working adults, get them ready to be adults. Our magnet schools have done a pretty good job, but they need to be expanded, and our primary schools need to put a lot more emphasis on vocational skills and training people for their adult life.”

Paul Ingmundson went to UT Austin, where he paid $50 a semester. He says college tuition today is outrageous. He wants the first two years of college to be free. He’d pay for that by taxing oil and gas producers. “We can address the fossil fuel problem and the education problem with one policy change. I think even Republicans are going to start to get used to this. They are going to look around for money, and if you’re going to look around for money, the deepest pockets are in the oil and gas fields.” 


More affordable higher education and technical training are also high on the agendas of Democrats Melissa Aguillon and Walter Martinez.

“It was challenging for my parents to put me through college,” says Aguillon. “I actually had to pretty much fund my own college tuition, and so, I want to make sure that higher education is accessible for all students that want to go to college.” But she adds, there are far more career paths available to those students now, and far more jobs being created, “21st century jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year education.”

“I think it’s important that the necessary skills for trades are also accessible to them,” says Aguillon. Fellow Democrat Martinez agrees, and adds, “The delivery and implementation of workforce training, also providing technical training, to be able to provide the workforce that modern technology requires, those are all part of the agenda as far as supporting public education.”

Democrat Diego Bernal says the first bill he’d file would overhaul the way the state decides how much money each school district will receive. “The very first one I would file would have to do with public education and the formula that we use to pay for students who are either economically disadvantaged or English language learners. There’s a formula they use to give districts extra money and that formula hasn’t been updated since the mid-’80s. So if you want to know what my very first attempt at a bill would be, that would be it.”

Here’s an Express News overview of this race. The SA Current did Q&As with four of the candidates in the HD123 race – with Diego Bernal, Melissa Aguillon, Walter Martinez, and Roger Gary. They also profiled Bernal and noted that Aguillon had received financial support from a Georgia-based auto title loan business owner.

As for HD17, news is a lot harder to find. What little I have is from the Gonzalez Inquirer. Here’s their overview of the race:

Republican candidate John Cyrier, 41, of Lockhart, was in town Monday morning for a brief rally at the Roger M. Dreyer Memorial Airport to kick off early voting. He arrived by air in his Cessna Skylane II— which appropriately sported the colors red, white and blue.

[…]

The other Republican in the race, Brent Golemon, 46, of Bastrop, got a taste of politics early in life. Golemon worked as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff at the capitol after graduating Hampden-Sydney College while his father was a 35-year lobbyist in Austin.

Golemon co-founded GalleryWatch, the nation’s first online legislative tracking service in 1996, which was sold eight years later. His current occupation is listed as “entrepreneur.”

The closest Golemon gets to an elected office credential is a stint on the Tahitian Village Property Owners Association and a board appointment to the Bastrop County Water District. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching six-man football at a Christian-based athletics program for home-schooled and private school families.

The first of two Democrats on the ballot is Ty McDonald, 43, also of Bastrop. She is a 1993 graduate of Texas A&M University and is married to former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald.

McDonald’s early education into elected public service was as legislative director for State Rep. Yvonne Davis in the early 90s. She also served as campaign coordinator for John Sharp during his failed bid for comptroller.

After serving as a public school teacher for seven years, she was elected to a single term to the board of the Bastrop Independent School District. Her last year was served as president of that body.

After flirting with a run for state rep earlier this year, McDonald switched races to challenge incumbent Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. She lost that contest in November.

The other Democrat is Shelley Cartier, 51, yet another candidate from the Bastrop area. Her business card describes her as a non-politician and small business owner.

On the issues, she supports local control and small growth. Public education is also in her platform and she says she is a “defender of property and water rights for all.”

In her spare time she advocates for the humane treatment of animals and hosts several rescue horses on her property.

Rounding out the list is the lone Independent candidate, Linda Curtis, 63, the final Bastrop resident. Her tagline is “If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em!”

They also have a profile of Cyrier.

Cyrier hails from Caldwell County where he and his wife Rachelle live on a ranch south of Lockhart. His political fact sheet touts many accomplishments for the 42 year-old—successful businessman, past county commissioner and former commander of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band. He now wishes to be State Representative for District 17, which includes Gonzales County.

His business career began after he received a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Texas A&M University. A couple of stops in the general contracting business and branch office management led him to launch Sabre Commercial, Inc. in 2008, a commercial construction services company specializing in general contracting. It employs 51 people and has won numerous distinctions from the Austin Business Journal including a nomination for Best CEO Award in September.

“I surround myself with good people and I take care of them,” said Cyrier. The good working morale has led Sabre to three top-10 “Best Places to Work in Central Texas” designations from the Journal.

Cyrier’s political career began in 2010. There was a vacancy on the commissioner’s court in Caldwell County and longtime County Judge H.T. Wright, Jr., a Democrat, picked Cyrier based on his community accomplishments. The judge knew that he would take heat for the appointment since Cyrier was a Republican, but he saw a need to balance the court and invite all ideas to the table.

Turns out that Cyrier was only the second Republican to ever hold a seat on the court. Party designation didn’t matter to most voters, for he was elected outright later that year by 60 percent of the ballots and was named Judge Pro-Tem in 2012.

“I loved being a county commissioner,” he said.

Cyrier decided to serve out his term but opted not to run in the general election in 2012. He figured that he could do just as much good for the community away from the commissioner’s court than he could on it. The list of boards on which he currently serves include: Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Caritas of Austin, Lockhart ISD Education Foundation, Caldwell County Republican precinct chair—and the list goes on — prove just that.

During the Thanksgiving holiday he received a call from Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt had resigned and the county’s leadership was looking for a candidate to promote. One GOP candidate had already popped up in Bastrop, but they were looking for something more. They believed that Cyrier had the vision to be the district’s next leader.

With the added urging of longtime Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett, Cyrier decided to run and continue his community service at the elected level. Soon he had a list of supporters that any candidate would envy.

There are three things that Cyrier lists as top priorities in the upcoming legislative session: education, water and infrastructure. Luckily for District 17, all three topics resonate throughout the five rural counties he would represent.

On education, Cyrier already counts superintendents from Bastrop, Smithville, Karnes, Lockhart, Gonzales and a host of other education professionals as supporting his candidacy.

He shows a strong command of the issues facing public schools in the state. His concerns are on elected officials that look to defund public education to send dollars elsewhere. Oftentimes school is the only place a child can eat a regular meal for breakfast, lunch— and more often now— even dinner.

Diverting public dollars would have an adverse affect on education, especially in communities like this one where the school system is the major employer. Cyrier looks to be a strong advocate for these independent school districts.

He also draws a parallel between the growth the district has seen based on underground resources—water to the north and oil to the south. Where Bastrop County has seen sprawl eat on its western flank, water developers look to siphon off the precious resource to far-flung housing developments throughout the I-35 corridor and down to San Antonio. Similar concerns can be seen here.

The other boom is down south with the shale explosion in the Eagle Ford. Gonzales County is experiencing growth and road degradation associated with this as is its neighbor to the south, Karnes County. Cyrier understands this and how public infrastructure funding is so important to the area.

Since all five counties in the district are still largely rural, he feels that the area shares the same challenges.

So there you have it. If you live in one of these districts, please make sure you vote.

Interview with Diego Bernal

Diego Bernal

Diego Bernal

For the second biennium in a row, there are legislative special elections going on during what many of us think of as the Christmas break. That’s not so great for the people involved in those campaigns, since it’s hardly a break for them, but at least it’s convenient for me to schedule some interviews. I’m going to bring you a few interviews with candidates running in these special elections, for which early voting has now begun. First up will be Diego Bernal, who recently resigned his seat on San Antonio City Council to run for the HD123 position that was vacated by Mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal. Bernal, a native San Antonian, was a social worker and civil rights attorney before his election to Council. I first became aware of Diego Bernal back in 2012 when he led the fight to pass stricter regulations on payday lenders, thus helping to set a model for other cities like Houston to adopt. He was also a key supporter of expanding San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinance to include LGBT folks. Those were among the topics we covered in the interview:

I should have interviews with candidates from other races the rest of this week.

Perry sets HD13 special election date

For all the writing I’ve done about the various legislative special elections, I’d almost forgotten that this one was still out there.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

Just hours after Lois Kolkhorst was sworn in as the newest state senator Monday, Gov. Rick Perry called a Jan. 13 special election to fill the Brenham Republican’s former seat in the Texas House.

At least three Republicans have already launched bids for House District 13: Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert and Becky Berger, a member of the Republican State Executive Committee. All of them announced they were interested in the seat before Kolkhorst’s victory earlier this month in the special election to replace Katy Republican Glenn Hegar, the incoming comptroller.

[…]

Perry has given prospective candidates a week to file applications for the HD13 special election with the secretary of state’s office. Early voting commences Jan. 5.

In other words, everything is exactly one week after the elections in HDs 17 and 123 and SD26. And as a reminder, if either Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer or Rep. Jose Menendez wins in SD26 – an outcome that seems highly likely now that Sylvia Romo has dropped out of the race, having been found to not be a resident of the district – we will need one more special election before the session is over. Via the Secretary of State, here are the candidate lists for each race:

SD26

Trey Martinez Fischer
Democrat

Alma Perez Jackson
Republican

Jose Menendez
Democrat

Joan Pedrotti
Republican

Al Suarez
Democrat

HD123

Melissa Aguillon
Democrat

Diego Bernal
Democrat

Roger V. Gary
Libertarian

Paul Ingmundson
Green

Walter Martinez
Democrat

Nunzio Previtera
Republican

HD17

Shelley Cartier
Democrat

Linda Curtis
Independent

John Cyrier
Republican

Brent Golemon
Republican

Ty McDonald
Democrat

As for HD13, that election was set shortly after Kolkhorst was sworn in as the new Senator from District 18, which triggered the vacancy there. I’ll keep an eye out for other candidates, but as I noted before, it’s considerably less hospitable to a Democratic candidate than HD17 is, so the best we can hope for is a non-crazy Republican. I expect there to be some interesting endorsement action in these races, with such short turnarounds and big rewards for hitting the jackpot. We’ll see how that goes as well.

UPDATE: The Express News has more on the Bexar County elections, while the Trib adds some details and another name to the HD13 lineup:

Republican Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, 61, is playing the experience card, hoping her 20 years as a county judge and eight years as a city council member will give her a leg up. “I think the voters deserve someone who has done research and solved problems,” said Bilski, who listed education and infrastructure as high-priority issues.

Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert, also a Republican, said he has worked for every level of government from federal to county. He said keeping Texas’ economy strong and fiscally conservative is his top priority, plus protecting private property rights. “Any issue starts with the economy,” Schubert said. “We got to help keep this economy moving — that helps from the top down.”

Becky Berger, Republican No. 3 and a geologist, has lost twice in Republican primary races for the Texas Railroad Commission.

Cecil Webster, a veteran who’s been active in Democratic politics in Fayette County for years, said restoring education funding would be one of his top priorities if he’s elected, and rejected the premise that the district is unwinnable for a Democrat. “I am convinced that if you look at the actual number of folks here, there are more blue folks then red folks,” Webster, 60, said. “Democrats just don’t vote.”

Good luck to you, sir. I can’t do the exact same calculations of the Democratic vote potential as I did in HD17 because Kolkhorst was unopposed in 2014 and 2012, but I can say there were 1,837 total Democratic primary votes in the 2014 Democratic primary in the seven counties that make up HD13, and 3,093 votes in the 2012 Dem primary. Bill White received 16,250 votes total in HD13 in 2010. Hope you can track those folks down for this race.

Overview of the Bexar County special legislative elections

From The Rivard Report:

Texas House District 123

Former District 1 City Councilmember Diego Bernal resigned his city seat in mid-November to launch his campaign for Villarreal’s former seat. His VoteDiego website offers voters his positions on a number of issues, ranging from education to civil rights.

Melissa Aguillon, a small business owner and the principal of Aguillon & Associates, a public relations and digital marketing firm, also is running. Her VoteAguillon website displays her digital media acumen, offering videos, her Twitter feed, Facebook feed, etc.

Former District 5 Councilmember Walter Martinez (1985-92) and the Texas House District 119 representative for a single term (1983-85) is making a run to regain elected office after a two-decade-plus hiatus that began with a failed bid to win a seat on Commissioners Court. Martinez apparently does not have a campaign website.

Republican candidate Nunzio Previtera, with Integrity Insurance Agency in San Antonio, jumped into the race this week. His campaign website lists his support for small business, job growth and his pro-life position.

Libertarian candidate Roger Gary, who apparently sought his party’s nomination for president in 2012, also is running. He does not have a campaign website.

Click here to see a map of District 123, which extends from the Southside through the central city and north in Castle Hills and part of the Northside.

Texas Senate District 26

This vacant seat has attracted two strong and respected state representatives among other candidates.

Disrtrict 116 state Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher and District 124 state Rep. José Menéndez are the two leading candidates for the seat.

Sylvia Romo, the former Bexar County tax assessor-collector who served two terms in the Texas House in the 190s and who lost a Democratic primary race against U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett in 2012, is looking to regain elected office.

Converse Mayor Al Saurez also is running for the seat as a long shot contender.

Here is a great map of the districts and the early voting locations within them. Early voting runs from December 29 through January 3, with a day off on January 1. Election Day will be January 6. Assume turnout will be low, so if you live in HD123 and/or SD26, your vote really counts.

These elections are important, especially the one in SD26 since Senate seats don’t have that much turnover, but please don’t get sucked into a narrative about it being some kind of proxy battle for the soul of the Texas Democratic Party. This is a low-turnout special election for a vacancy that no one knew would exist less than two months ago. It’s also no longer a straight-up battle between a liberal State Rep and a somewhat less liberal State Rep thanks to the entry of a third major candidate. Listen to the candidates and support whoever you think is the best choice. Don’t give a thought to what the nattering nabobs (of which I am one) think. But if you do care what I think, I’d vote for Trey Martinez-Fischer in SD26, and Diego Bernal in HD123. All due respect to Jose Menendez and Sylvia Romo, both of whom I think would be fine Senators, but TMF is my first choice, as is Bernal for the House. Just make sure you get out there and vote, in these races or in HD17, if you live in one of these districts.

UPDATE: Sylvia Romo has dropped out of the race for SD26 after it turned out out that she didn’t live in the district.

San Antonio special legislative elections appear to be set

Rumor has it.

Mike Villarreal

Mike Villarreal

State Rep. Mike Villarreal said Friday that Gov. Rick Perry has set Jan. 6 as the date for a special election to fill his position in the state House and a Senate seat being vacated by Leticia Van de Putte.

Villarreal and Van de Putte are leaving the Texas Legislature to run for San Antonio mayor.

In social media posts Friday, Villarreal divulged a snippet of a conversation he had with Ken Armbrister, a top Perry staffer, about the scheduling of the special election.

“He just called to let me know that the election will be called on Jan. 6,” Villarreal said in a phone interview. “This will minimize the possibility that there’s a vacancy in the House.”

The legislative session starts Jan. 13.

A Perry spokeswoman declined to confirm the date, saying: “We don’t have anything to announce on this. When we do, we will put out a press release.”

A formal announcement from Perry’s office could come as early as Monday.

Villarreal tweeted and Facebooked the news, which as you can see is unconfirmed at this time. Villarreal seems to be the only one willing to state this for the record, but we’ll know for sure soon enough.

Former San Antonio Councilmen Diego Bernal and Walter Martinez, who is also a former state representative, and Melissa Aguillon, who runs a public relations firm, all Democrats, are vying for Villarreal’s House seat. Nunzio Previtera, a Republican, and Libertarian Roger Gary are also eyeing the race.

[…]

State Reps. Jose Menendez and Trey Martinez Fischer, both Democrats, have launched campaigns to replace Van de Putte in the upper chamber. GOP activist Alma Perez-Jackson is also mentioned as a candidate, but has not officially announced her campaign.

I’ve said before that the special election in SD26 is a worthwhile shot for the Republicans to take, though I wouldn’t bet any money on their candidate making it to a runoff. Worst case scenario is a few fat cat donors waste some money.

Bexar County election officials already were urging reconsideration of the Jan 6. date.

Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said Friday the date wouldn’t allow the two days needed to prepare polling sites in schools that will be closed for the holidays until Jan. 5.

Surely there is an accommodation that can be made here. Both these races are near locks to need runoffs, so the sooner they are held, the better.

On a tangential note, January 14 – Day Two of the session – is the day that Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt is planning to resign to take the job of general counsel for the Ag Department. I would presume a special election to fill that seat, for which I have urged Dems to take a shot, will follow shortly thereafter. Assuming one of Reps. Martinez-Fischer or Menendez wins in SD26, we will need one more special election, likely in early March, to fill that vacancy. Barring any unforseen additional departures, that should be it for the time being.

Bexar legislative shuffle update

The two candidates that we thought were running for HD123 have officially announced that they are running for HD123.

Mike Villarreal

Two Democrats announced this weekend that they’re running for Texas House District 123, the San Antonio seat that state Rep. Mike Villarreal is leaving to run for San Antonio mayor.

Public relations consultant Melissa Aguillon and City Councilman Diego Bernal officially kicked off their campaigns surrounded by cheering supporters. Other contenders for the house seat could include former City Councilman Walter Martinez, a Democrat, and Libertarian candidate Roger Gary.

They’re gearing up for a sprint of a race that could be over in a matter of weeks. The candidates are waiting for the Texas governor to set the date for a special election to fill Villarreal’s seat.

Villarreal announced he’s running for mayor after Julián Castro stepped down to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Washington.

“We expect it to happen at the very end of this year or the first month of next year,” Bernal said of the special election.

See here and here for the background. There has been a bit of chatter that Villarreal would back out of the Mayoral race since Leticia Van de Putte jumped in, fueled by Villarreal’s not-quite-a-resignation letter that may have left him some wiggle room. Villarreal insists he is staying the course, and neither I nor these candidates have any reason to doubt him. As I have said before, Bernal starts out as my favorite in this race.

Meanwhile, speaking of LVdP, Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia asks what qualities the voters in SD26 might want in her successor.

In recent weeks, we’ve heard a lot about the virtues of nonpartisanship. Mike Villarreal has made it one of the centerpieces of his mayoral campaign, and former Councilman Walter Martinez — who is one of the candidates vying for Villarreal’s seat in the Texas House — has also talked about its importance.

Given that Democrats will be badly outnumbered in a Patrick-controlled Senate, however, this is a question that lurks in the shadows of the special election to succeed outgoing Sen. Leticia Van de Putte: Is nonpartisanship possible — or even advisable — for her would-be successor?

Keep in mind that Senate District 26 is overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2012, Barack Obama took 62 percent of the vote in SD 26, even while he could only muster 41.4 percent statewide. The great majority of the district’s constituents oppose Patrick’s agenda.

The contenders for Van de Putte’s seat are Trey Martinez Fischer and José Menéndez, two San Antonio Democratic representatives born a year apart (Martinez Fischer is 44, and Menéndez is 45) who were Texas House freshman classmates in 2001. Martinez Fischer is the Democrats’ voluble happy warrior, while Menéndez is the measured, behind-the-scenes conciliator rarely on the front lines of a partisan battle.

Martinez Fischer told me last week that he considers himself able to adapt to different legislative conditions.

In 2011, when partisan bickering was the order of the day and Republicans slashed education funding by $5.4 billion, Martinez Fischer dipped into his bag of parliamentary tricks with points of order designed to slow the onslaught. In 2013, when a spirit of compromise emerged, he played a key negotiating role in the restoration of $3.9 billion in education funds.

“Our job is to do whatever is best for the entire state,” Martinez Fischer said. “But I’m not going to be a Pollyanna about it. We find ourselves in some very divisive and partisan times and people have to know that there are lawmakers out there fighting day and night to represent their views.”

See here for the background. All due respect to Rep. Menendez, but TMF starts out as my favorite in this race. Unlike the one in HD123, this election would not occur until later in the year, most likely in November. Expect this debate to go on for quite some time, and keep an eye out for what these two Reps do during the legislative session to either advance this narrative or show another side to their character and abilities.

Diego Bernal to run for HD123

Good.

Diego Bernal

Diego Bernal, a civil rights attorney elected to the District 1 City Council seat in 2011, will leave the office on Tuesday to run in a yet-to-be-called special election for the Texas House of Representatives.

“I’m stepping down,” Bernal told the San Antonio Express-News, “because there’s going to be a vacancy in House District 123.”

Bernal, a Democrat, has his sights set on replacing Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, whose 123rd district overlaps with Bernal’s council district.

Villarreal has sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry saying he intends to complete his current term, which ends Jan. 13, but does not intend to serve in the 2015 term, to which he was elected on Nov. 4.

[…]

Bernal leaves a significant legacy in his nearly two full terms on council.

He spearheaded city policy that cracked down on payday lenders and was the driving force behind the city’s bolstered nondiscrimination ordinance, which now offers protection to people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The nondiscrimination ordinance was easily the most controversial issue the council faced.

He also said he’s proud of the transparency in his office, his open-door policy and communications with District 1 constituents.

Bernal also was a staunch advocate for the inner city.

“I’m proud that we demonstrated that you can start to bring attention to areas that had not seen it in decades,” he said.

But for every mended street, every new sidewalk, there are miles more left unattended.

“If you take your job seriously,” he said, “you’re haunted by what you haven’t gotten to.”

All of that makes me a big fan of CM Bernal and has me excited for the prospect of having him in the Legislature. He has exactly the right attitude for the job. We could use a lot more like him.

Bernal won’t be unopposed in this not-yet-declared special election, of course, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Trib introduces another hopeful for HD123:

San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal and public relations consultant Melissa Aguillon have both set their sights on Villarreal’s House seat, which covers downtown and parts of northern San Antonio. Villarreal announced last week that he would resign his seat in the next Legislature in order to focus on running for mayor and give voters time to fill his seat ahead of the upcoming session. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who just lost her bid for lieutenant governor, is also said to be considering a mayoral run.

Aguillon said she decided to pursue the seat earlier this summer when it became clear that Villarreal would step down from the House.

“When I first heard that Mike was going to be running for mayor, I just decided that this was something that I wanted to do,” Aguillon said. “I’ll use my experience that I’ve already had as a small business owner and put it to work as hopefully a representative for the district.”

Before starting her marketing firm, Aguillon worked for the city’s economic development department. She also worked for state Rep. José Menéndez during his time on the San Antonio City Council. Menéndez said earlier this week that he would consider running for Van de Putte’s Senate seat if she too steps down to run for mayor. If that happens, he’s likely to face state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

I know nothing more about Ms. Aguillon than that. I’m sure she’d make a fine Representative, but with all due respect Diego Bernal is my first choice. The Rivard Report has more.

Villarreal to launch his mayoral candidacy

We’re going to be talking a lot about Houston’s mayoral race next year, but six months before we elect a new Mayor San Antonio will elect one as well. The current frontrunner – and only declared candidate so far – is State Rep. Mike Villarreal, who will formally launch his campaign today.

Mike Villarreal

[Villarreal is] expected to resign his state office in the near future to focus on the mayoral campaign. A Twitter message to followers from @mikevillarreal [recently] announced that campaign signs would be ready to go on Monday, which will move his candidacy from the behind-the-scenes meetings stage out into the open.

Three months after announcing his run for mayor, Villarreal is still running alone. That is likely to change after the Nov. 4 general elections, so Villarreal is sending a message now to would-be challengers: He’s used his head start to build a $250,000 war chest, assemble a strong campaign team, launch a Mike for Mayor website, and secure key endorsements.

Nearly one-fifth of that money has come in the last 30 days, according to campaign consultant and public relations agency owner Trish Deberry.

“I’m proud of the fact that my campaign continues to gain momentum, and a great cross-section of San Antonio’s business as well as neighborhood leaders are making the early decision to support me in the Mayor’s race,” said Villarreal. “I’m not taking anything for granted and working hard every day.”

As we know, the ability of a non-city politician to transfer funds to a city campaign is currently being litigated. Clearly, the rules in San Antonio are a bit different. One presumes that subject will come up in court.

District 1 City Councilmember Diego Bernal is widely regarded as the strongest candidate to succeed Villarreal if he decides to resign from City Council and seek election to the Texas Legislature.

Villarreal has now officially resigned his House seat. One hopes Rick Perry will pay enough attention to his main job to schedule a special election ASAP. I’m a fan of CM Bernal, and I’d be happy to see him get elected to succeed Villarreal.

Who will oppose Villarreal in the mayoral race remains to be seen. The most closely-watched person on the short list is Mayor Ivy Taylor, who is serving out the 10-month unexpired term of former Mayor and now Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro.

Some people have also speculated that Sen. Leticia Van de Putte might run for Mayor on the theory that she won’t want to serve in a Senate presided over by Dan Patrick. I’m dubious, though she is at least considering the question, so I suppose anything is possible. Taylor had said during the selection process that she wasn’t interested in running in 2015, but you know how these things can go. She has other options available to her as well. My guess is that she doesn’t run, either. Someone will challenge Villarreal, but barring anything strange I think he’s a strong favorite to win in May. Randy Bear, who has several other possible contenders, and Texpatriate have more.

Enforcing a new payday loan ordinance

Mayor Parker’s proposed payday lending ordinance will be up before Council today, though it might wind up being delayed until the new Council is sworn in. It’s not clear yet how the vote might go, but in the meantime it’s worth pondering what the enforcement mechanism for this new law would be. Other cities that have passed similar ordinances, on which the Houston version is modeled, have taken it slow so far.

Martha Hernandez, who was hired to handle enforcement of the ordinance for the city of Austin, said four complaints have been referred for prosecution in 19 months. Her staff is nearly done with an analysis showing which lenders are most likely violating the ordinance, based on the accuracy of their reports, complaints and other data. That list will guide compliance audits, she said.

“Our process, we anticipated it would be complaint-driven, but there’s just not very much demand on that. We’re constantly looking at what we can do to better inform the public about the ordinance,” Hernandez said. “The plan has always been to do audits in tandem with the complaint-based investigations.”

Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen said more than 30 lenders were closed for violating a 2011 ordinance governing where the stores could operate, but agreed Dallas’ enforcement has been slow. The lenders’ lawsuit made the city cautious, he said, and officials paused to see if the Legislature would act.

“I wish it was quicker, but we’ve had a pretty organized approach to it. Without question, it’s now time for enforcement,” Allen said, adding audits could come in weeks. “Dallas is coming. We will find violations, it’ll be $500 a day, and we’re going to keep coming.”

San Antonio Councilman Diego Bernal said his city has hired no staff and acknowledged the first year under the new regime was quiet. However, he said, workers have begun stings, and he said there is enough public awareness that valid complaints are coming in.

“Some of the violations have been rectified: They weren’t registered and so we got them registered. Now we’re at a point where what we’re left with are bad actors that are purposefully violating the ordinance,” Bernal said. “We’re pursuing all enforcement options, one of which is full-on litigation.”

Houston plans to begin enforcement on its estimated 550 such lenders July 1 to give proper time to staff up, [City Attorney David] Feldman said.

See here for more on what the cities have been doing. I’m okay with the approach described above. This would be a big change, and it’s sensible for the city to give the payday lenders some time to make themselves compliant, as well as some time to get its own ducks in a row for future enforcement. To some extent, Houston and other cities will need to rely on consumer complaints, but it’s a good idea to get to a point where someone at the city has a reasonably clear picture of how these businesses are operating and can step in as needed to deal with problems. And none of this changes the fact that the Legislature needs to get its own act together and pass a real law that builds on what these cities have done and holds these businesses accountable across the board. We’ll see if Council does their job today or if we have to wait till next year. Campos has more.

No repeal petition for San Antonio non-discrimination ordinance

Good.

RedEquality

Opponents of San Antonio’s nondiscrimination ordinance spread the word at churches and parks about their petition drive to place the policy on a citywide ballot.

A few hours before Tuesday’s deadline, they informed city officials that effort had fallen short.

Pastor Gerald Ripley, a petition leader, estimated the group collected about 20,000 signatures, well below the required 61,046, or 10 percent of eligible voters.

[…]

The group had 40 days from the Sept 5 Council vote to adopt the NDO.

Apart from Cornerstone Church, few large religious groups joined the effort. Several of the city’s biggest evangelical megachurches and the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio sat it out.

The archdiocese raised its concerns in a respectful dialogue before the Council vote, archdiocesan officials said. They added that petition leaders did not distinguish well at first that the repeal effort was separate from recall drives against council members who voted for the NDO.

The archdiocese would have legal reservations about mixing the two, said Pat Rodgers, archdiocesan spokesman, citing nonprofit law banning churches from partisan candidate campaigns.

See here and here for the background. I’m glad to see this, of course, and just a little relieved because the Tuesday morning story said that the repeal backers were “preparing to submit” a petition, which sure made it sound like a closer deal than it was. Our super-litigious Attorney General will not be filing suit against the ordinance, so modulo the efforts of the recall petitioners, this matter is settled for now. Recall or not, there will be future elections, and as noted in my second link above, one reason why the NDO passed is because of favorable outcomes in two SA City Council elections this past May. So let’s not rest too easy. And let’s get cracking on a more comprehensive NDO for Houston.

The aftermath of the NDO in San Antonio

The Council vote is over, but don’t expect the fight to be.

RedEquality

In four separate public forums since mid-August, more than 1,500 people approached the dais at City Hall and addressed the council, speaking passionately in support of and against the ordinance that drew national attention. Final public comments were heard about three hours before the council took its vote.

In separate votes, the council approved adding veteran status 9-2, and approved adding LGBT protections 8-3.

“It’s a common-sense ordinance that’s going to treat everyone equally,” Mayor Julián Castro said after the vote. “Nobody will be a second-class citizen in San Antonio. Here, there will be basic fairness and common decency for everybody.”

When it was over, red-clad supporters of the policy walked victoriously out of the council chambers, waving rainbow flags. They spilled into Main Plaza shouting mantras of equality and justice.

And opponents, dressed in blue, left quietly in defeat, vowing to fight the ordinance in the courts and to unseat or recall elected leaders for ignoring their pleas to table or spike the measure altogether.

The possibility of legal action, which is probably close to 100% at this point, was raised before the vote was taken. I’m sure you can guess who’s leading that parade.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Greg Abbott, a candidate for Texas governor, wrote a letter to Castro, warning the current draft was vulnerable to lawsuits.

Among his concerns were protections for religious expression, including city officials and residents who voice support for traditional marriage. He noted the Texas Constitution recognizes traditional marriage alone. The proposed ordinance does not address same-sex marriage.

That sort of detail, or the fact that NDOs like this exist all over the place have never troubled Greg Abbott.

Nearly 200 cities across the country have enacted ordinances in recent years that prohibit bias by municipal employees or in city contracts over someone’s race, sex, age, religion or sexual orientation. Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth are a few of the Texas cities that adopted such measures.

Funny, I don’t remember such wailing and gnashing of teeth when those cities adopted NDOs. So what is this all about, really?

All of the major statewide elected positions are open contests in the Republican primary. And while voters do not head to the polls until March, many Republicans seeking statewide office have seized on San Antonio’s ordinance in what some see as a way to appeal to the grass-roots conservatives who make up the bulk of the electorate in the party’s Texas primaries.

“It is Republican statewide candidates signaling their base that they are true and trustworthy conservatives,” said Calvin Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “When you’re running for statewide office, you don’t control what the San Antonio mayor and Council do. So all you’re really doing is taking an ideological position that you then project toward the Republican primary electorate, so that they can see that you’re a social conservative and you are manning the ramparts against undesirable social change.”

There appeared to be other political reasons that the debate became closely watched.

Republicans sought to engage San Antonio’s mayor, Julián Castro, who supported the measure and has become one of the few Democrats in a Republican-dominated state with star power, political science professors said. A number of Democrats want Mr. Castro, who gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, to run for statewide office. The debate over the ordinance became as much about challenging Mr. Castro’s vision for San Antonio and his future ambitions as it was about gay rights.

“An issue that otherwise would primarily be confined to local media coverage and some protests by social conservatives has taken on a state and even national level scope, and that’s due to the fact that Julián Castro is involved,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

No surprise there. I can’t wait to see what clever nickname Erick Erickson comes up with for Mayor Castro. In the meantime, my advice for Greg Abbott is go right ahead, file suit. Let’s give the courts another chance to evaluate Texas’ retrogressive laws and policies. I for one do not fear that. As for the possibility of recall elections, apparently the efforts were already underway before the vote.

Several groups are now targeting Mayor Julian Castro for violating his duties according to the Constitution for supporting the proposed non-discrimination ordinance. The groups include the Bexar County Conservative Coalition, the San Antonio Family Association, and the Justice Foundation.

They are also collecting signatures to oust District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, who has been spearheading the issue, for the same reasons.

Opponent Gina Castaneda, who is block walking to collect signatures to oust Bernal from office, says the groups decided to launch a similar campaign against Castro. She said she and others believe Castro inappropriately signed off on the measure without receiving the proper number of signatures on the Governance Committee, which heard the proposal before it went to the full city council.

[…]

Castaneda said the groups need 70,000 signatures to recall Castro.

So far, she said, they have about half of the 6,000 signatures needed to recall Bernal.

As for future recalls, Castaneda said opponents to the ordinance are ready to recall any and all of the council members that vote in favor of the non-discrimination ordinance revisions.

Well, they’ve got their work cut out for them now. For what it’s worth, Mayor Castro got 66.5% of the vote this past May, in a really low turnout election, and CM Bernal got 63.5% winning a runoff two years ago. I’m not terribly worried about either of them, but if this goes through it’ll be up to everyone who supports equality to do what they can to help these two and anyone else who is targeted. Now is not the time to declare that we’re all done. Remember, as Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia points out, elections do have consequences.

For all the tireless grass-roots organizing and the passionate public testimonials by NDO supporters in recent weeks, their greatest victories during the process came June 15, when Ron Nirenberg and Shirley Gonzales won their runoff contests.

In a matter of hours, the pro-NDO cause gained two desperately needed council votes, because Nirenberg and Gonzales both faced opponents who opposed the ordinance.

In the case of Gonzales, the issue almost certainly salvaged her campaign against incumbent David Medina, a point that Gonzales acknowledged from the dais Thursday.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had endorsed Medina before the May 11 election, but they reversed themselves and decided to back Gonzales for the runoff when it became clear that Medina would be an obstacle to the NDO’s passage. The combined runoff support of the Community Alliance for a United San Antonio (CAUSA) and SEIU were absolutely crucial to her narrow 117-vote victory.

In the case of Nirenberg, he might have caught a break because his adversary — the deep-pocketed but scandal-prone engineering consultant Rolando Briones — didn’t fully realize how intense the NDO opposition would become.

Briones spent much of his campaign trying to convince conservatives in his North Side district that he spoke their language, and he might have pulled it off with an all-consuming, stretch-run attack on the NDO issue.

With Nirenberg and Gonzales on board, District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal — the chief council architect of the ordinance — had a secure majority behind him. Without them, he would have faced a 5-5 tie going into the final week, with everything hinging on the uncommitted Rebecca Viagran (who ultimately backed the ordinance).

The runoff saga is a useful reminder that elections have consequences. While we saw citizens line up to speak to the council about the ordinance, we rarely see comparable municipal-election lines at polling centers, where voters have a chance to put in place the council members who will decide issues such as the NDO.

If there is a recall effort, we might see that kind of turnout effort that could have swayed things the other way in June. If so, as Josh Brodesky wrote before the NDO vote was taken, the anti side might want to reflect on the fact that they are their own worst enemy.

The louder they have shouted against proposed protections for the city’s gay community, the more necessary the nondiscrimination ordinance in San Antonio has become.

They took something that was commonplace — such protections exist in towns and cities across this country — and elevated it into something extraordinary.

All along, this was about providing equal protections to another group of people, but opponents made it about themselves: their beliefs, their speech, their morality.

To raise concerns about morality, and exemplify their freedom of speech, they rallied around disgust. Just like City Councilwoman Elisa Chan, they were disgusted by gays. And just like Chan, they were exercising their freedom of speech to express this disgust.

“At a certain point, when you listen to some people speak, what they are saying is, ‘I want to reserve the right to not serve these people. I want to reserve the right to discriminate against these people, and you are taking that away from me,’” City Councilman Diego Bernal said.

“And my response is, ‘Well, yeah. If there is one right I am taking away from you, it’s your right to discriminate against this group.’”

In this sense, opponents to the nondiscrimination ordinance were just as tone deaf as Aaryn Gries, the Texas State University student whose bigoted comments on the reality show “Big Brother” drew national attention.

And in that sense, it’s good to see these folks let it all hang out. Let’s all be clear about who stands for what. Since Brodesky brought up the infamous CM Chan, let’s go back to the first story linked in this post for one more point to make.

During the course of public testimony, many speakers said the opposite, citing scripture as evidence of what they consider immoral acts.

Councilwoman Elisa Chan, whose secretly recorded May 21 staff meeting on the issue thrust the debate into the national spotlight, has alternatively become a pariah and a heroine.

Last week, when the council met to discuss the proposal, she was greeted by a standing ovation. Later, ordinance supporters chastised her for disparaging remarks she made in the secret recording about the LGBT community.

In it, Chan called gays “disgusting” and said they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children. On Thursday, Chan expressed disappointment in the process.

“Over the course of this debate, tolerance has separated itself from understanding and has become a dictate to agree. I have not heard a single person who said he or she agrees to any form of discrimination,” Chan said. “Just because I disagree with the lifestyle choices of the LGBT community doesn’t mean that I dislike them.”

No, Council Member Chan. You don’t get to be nice. You are working to deny other people their civil rights. You need to own that. If you were capable of hearing how your words might sound to someone who is directly affected by them, you might be able to understand that.

John Hagee drops opposition to San Antonio equality ordinance

Wow.

RedEquality

Television evangelist and pastor John Hagee on Sunday told congregants — and a national and international audience watching live — that he no longer opposes a proposed ordinance that seeks to protect the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in San Antonio.

He read a statement during his Cornerstone Church’s two morning worship services Sunday, reflecting confidence in the latest version of the ordinance, which is expected to go before the City Council on Sept. 5. And he claimed credit for a key wording change that ended his opposition to the measure.

At issue was a clause that would have allowed the council to consider whether candidates for city boards and commissions had discriminated against gay and transgender people in “word or deed” — which opponents saw as an invitation to consider their socially conservative views on homosexuality.

The proposal’s author, Councilman Diego Bernal, removed that language July 25.

“All of the previous language that infringed upon the freedom of speech, the freedom of exercise of religion and the ability for people of faith to serve on City Council has been expunged,” Hagee told the Cornerstone audience, prompting a standing ovation at the first Sunday service.

[…]

Hagee said he got the city attorney and Bernal to agree to the revisions in writing when they met Tuesday.

Though Bernal said he had made the revisions almost two weeks before that meeting, he said Sunday that the agreement and meeting with Hagee underscored the benefits of respectful dialogue.

“I was happy to share the changes with the pastor and his son,” Bernal said Sunday, referring to Mathew Hagee, the executive pastor at Cornerstone, who was also present.

“The ability to speak face to face about what the ordinance does and doesn’t do has proven to me time and time again to be the most effective method,” Bernal said.

Hagee said he had denounced the earlier draft through his church’s email network “weeks ago” and sent a letter to the council and mayor asking to discuss it. He spoke against it from the pulpit Aug. 4 and again on the nationally syndicated Glenn Beck talk show Aug. 5.

Hagee said he changed course the next day, after meeting with Bernal and reviewing the changes with his attorney and the Justice Foundation, a conservative legal defense firm.

Let me check…yep, the Earth is still spinning on its axis. Fire and brimstone are not coming down from the skies, rivers and seas are not boiling, and reports of dogs and cats living together should be considered premature and unconfirmed at this time. I haven’t followed this closely enough to know why that particular language was a hangup for Hagee, but just the idea that a guy like that wouldn’t flat out oppose a pro-equality ordinance on principle strikes me as a big deal.

Of course, plenty of Hagee’s brethren in equality opposition remain opposed to this ordinance, so at least some things never change. As it turns out, another opponent is SA Council Member Elise Chan, in an ugly and spectacular fashion.

Chan describes LGBTQ people as “disgusting,” saying they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt and that homosexuality is “against nature.” Former Chan staffer James Stevens surreptitiously recorded Chan’s comments on his iPhone during a May meeting on the proposed ordinance. Stevens provided the recording to San Antonio Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff, who published a damning article today.

At one point in the recording, amid a tittering exchange about pansexual people, Chan interjects her opinion on the nature of homosexuality.

“You know, to be quite honest, I know this is not politically correct,” she said. “I never bought in that you are born, that you are born gay. I can’t imagine it.”

As the talk shifted back to pansexual people, whose sexual orientations encompass all gender identities, Chan asks, “How can that be?”

“I will say, ‘Strip down! What equipment do you have?’” she continued. “I’m telling you. Crazy. We’re getting to crazy realm.”

Stevens agrees that it’s “politically incorrect in some circles” to claim that people choose to be gay. “The newspaper will get to you,” he warned.

Chan was evidently aware that her homophobic remarks could get her in trouble politically, and vowed to keep them under wraps in public.

Clearly, the better strategy would have been to not be a despicable bigot, but perhaps that’s too complicate for some people. When John Hagee is a model of tolerance, you know things have gone a bit sideways. Concerned Citizens has more.

Local action on payday lending

Patricia Kilday Hart reports on a promising movement.

Where payday lending comes from

No one was particularly surprised a year ago when the Texas Legislature failed – once again – to pass meaningful regulation of the payday and auto title loan industries. After all, the folks who charge triple digit interest on loans to society’s most desperately poor had invested $3.9 million on a persuasive lobby team to protect business as usual. But the coalition of consumer advocates hoping to de-fang the loan sharks – which included a wide swath of Texas churches – didn’t sit around and sulk.

Instead, the Texas Fair Lending Alliance, teaming up with the interdenominational Texas Faith for Fair Lending, found a way around the Austin lobby juggernaut. Taking a cue from the political axiom that “all politics is local,” they made their case to city councils in Austin and Dallas, which recently passed ordinances protecting their residents from open-ended loans with escalating fees and interest. This week, a San Antonio City Council committee took up the issue. Could Houston be far behind?

Like San Antonio, Dallas and Austin, poor neighborhoods in Houston have little access to banking, leaving a vacuum that the payday lenders have exploited. And really, is there any other word that better describes this business than “exploit?” When debtors can’t pay off their entire loan, they must pay stiff “rollover” fees plus interest. Imagine a family making $200 payments every two weeks for four months – shelling out $1,800 – without making a dent in their principal loan of $700.

That family is not imaginary, but the reason one San Antonio pastor became politically active. As I wrote last year, the family sought financial assistance from the Rev. Chad R. Chaddick’s church. Chaddick came to realize that lots of families obtaining financial assistance from churches were simply handing the cash over to lenders, in many cases, to keep their cars from being repossessed. “Eye-opening,” was how the polite minister described the situation.

Here’s more information about that San Antonio ordinance, which was proposed by City Council member Diego Bernal:

The proposed ordinance would be stronger than a law passed by the Legislature in 2011. That law requires payday lenders to post a fee schedule and submit to state regulation.

Payday lending is banned in at least a dozen states, and others limit loan amounts. In Texas, there’s a cap of 10 percent on annual interest rates, but Bernal said companies have found a loophole by calling themselves “credit-repair agencies,” which aren’t subject to the same limit.

Bernal’s plan has several elements, including limiting payday loans to 20 percent of the borrower’s gross monthly income and limiting auto title loans to the lesser of 3 percent of the borrower’s gross annual income or 70 percent of the vehicle value. He also seeks to require that the loans be limited to no more than four installments or three rollovers or renewals and that the proceeds from each installment or renewal reduce the loan principal by 25 percent.

Now, payday lenders can continually collect interest and fees from customers who can’t pay down the principal.

“You can put yourself into debt in perpetuity,” Bernal said. “And this (proposal) limits that.”

Seems reasonable to me. By the way, here’s how you can tell that the state law that was passed last year – which was still better than nothing, though not nearly as good as it should have been – is going to be inadequate. According to this Express News editorial in favor of Bernal’s proposal, Rick Perry appointed William White, the former head of payday lending giant Cash America, to head the Texas Finance Commission, which is the agency responsible for regulating payday lenders. Remember how well it worked out when Perry appointed one of Bob Perry’s top executives to head the agency that would regulate home builders? It’s like that.

See here and here for more on Bernals’ proposed ordinance, and see the Observer for more on the Texas Fair Lending Alliance. The Alliance released a poll showing broad support for further regulations and limits on payday lending – here’s the press release and the polling memo. Austin and Dallas have already taken some action, both via zoning laws and via similar legislation to Bernal’s. The payday lenders have threatened to sue, but the good guys feel like they’re on solid legal ground. I hope Houston gets in the game soon as well. I share Bernal’s feelings on the matter, as expressed in that last Express News link, a column by Brian Chasnoff:

On Wednesday, after City Council members agreed to draft an ordinance to address the problem locally, Tim Von Kennel explained why the industry opposes Bernal’s efforts.

“We need to have regulation,” said Von Kennel, executive director for Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, an association of payday lenders. “And we’re advocating state regulation over municipal ordinances.”

I’ve already outlined what “state regulation” looks like at the Capitol, where money seeps into cracks and distorts laws.

As for why Von Kennel is averse to “municipal ordinances,” Bernal’s reaction to the circling sharks is enlightening.

I asked the councilman how he responds to lobbyists’ entreaties to consider the perspective of payday lenders.

“How do I say this?” Bernal responded.

He paused for a few seconds, presumably to craft a politic answer.

“I sort of tell them,” he said, “to go (expletive) themselves.”

You’re my kind of guy, CM Bernal. For a non-exploitative alternative to payday lending, see The Slacktivist.