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“Families Belong Together”

Make some noise, then make sure everyone you know gets out and votes.

As the temperature inched to the triple digits and sweating crowds swarmed the south lawn of the Texas State Capitol, speakers declared with grief, hope, indignation and determination that the Trump administration’s immigration policies do not reflect their values.

Parents brought their children. Grandparents brought their grandchildren. College friends and church groups all stood and cheered as, one after another, immigrants, activists, doctors and religious leaders took to the stage and called for the unification of the thousands of immigrant children who were separated from their parents by the federal government when crossing into the United States. The “Families Belong Together” rally in Austin was just one of many held across the state and nation, from Houston and El Paso to Washington, D.C. and New York to Dodge City, Kansas and Missoula, Montana.

“While our president and his supporters have sought to divide us, we are here in defiance,” said Michelle Castillo of the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas, to a cheering crowd of thousands in Austin. “To see each other’s humanity. Across race, across party lines.”

[…]

Bishop Joel Martinez of the United Methodist Church told the crowd he was hopeful seeing so many people in attendance. But, he said, nothing will get accomplished unless they go out and vote.

“Those who legislate and govern must answer at the polls for their acts,” he said.

That’s exactly right, and we cannot forget it. As a child of the 70s and 80s, I grew up on horror stories about life on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. So many times we were told about the horrible things that those repressive totalitarian governments did to the people who lived there. Well, the things we’re hearing right now, in our own country, about children being taken by force and deception, parents being told they can only get them back if they agree to be deported, preschoolers appearing by themselves in court – all of them would have been totally plausible if they’d been told about the Soviet Union by Ronald Reagan. I can’t adequately express what a fucking disgrace, embarrassment, travesty this is.

So get angry. Get inspired by the pictures of the protesters. And get fired up to vote in November. ThinkProgress and Daily Kos have more.

Enforcement of SB4 halted

Excellent!

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia granted a preliminary injunction of Senate Bill 4, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s key legislative priorities that seeks to outlaw “sanctuary” entities, the common term for governments that don’t enforce federal immigration laws.

The bill was scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1, but opponents of the legislation, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued the bill violates several provisions of the Constitution. Garcia’s decision means the bill is on hold until that issue is decided; his court will now likely set another date to determine SB4’s constitutionality.

His decision is a temporary, but significant blow to Abbott and other Republican backers of the bill who said it would help keep Texans safe from undocumented immigrants that have been arrested on criminal charges but released from custody by sheriffs or other elected officials who refuse to hold the alleged criminals for possible deportation.

See here for the background. You know how I feel about this. The story broke late yesterday, so this was all that was available at the time. I’m sure there will be much more reporting soon.

UPDATE: From the Chron story:

“The best interest of the public will be served by preserving the status quo and enjoining, prior to Sept. 1, the implementation and enforcement of those portions of SB 4 that, on their face, are preempted by federal law and violate the United States Constitution,” Garcia wrote.

The decision, which can be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, is a blow to one of the toughest immigration laws in the nation.

In order to obtain an injunction, the local governments and organizations challenging the law needed to prove they were harmed by it and likely to succeed in their claim that it is unconstitutional.

“We won over 90 percent of it,” said Luis Vera, a lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, which represented the border city of El Cenizo in the lawsuit. “The state cannot mandate to the cities or police officers or sheriff’s offices how they run their police departments.”

[…]

The ruling found the plaintiffs made their case and were even helped during oral arguments by the state.

For instance, the judge noted the state “essentially concedes that the irreparable harm requirement is met.”

The judge quoted an argument made by one of the lawyers with the Texas Attorney General’s Office: “The state of Texas concedes, Your Honor, that if Senate Bill 4 is unconstitutional or a provision of it is severed by this court or this court finds it unconstitutional, if it is, and it would violate the constitutional rights of the public, then there is irreparable harm.”

The judge found that certain provisions of SB 4 conflict with, and are pre-empted by, federal law because enforcing SB 4 will interfere with the federal government’s authority to control immigration. The judge also found that enforcing SB 4 will result in First Amendment violations.

The judge also determined that vague prohibitions in SB 4 violate due process and “create a real danger of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

In addition, he found that enforcement of the mandatory detainer provisions “will inevitably lead to Fourth Amendment violations.”

I am sure this will be appealed, and who knows what happens next. But for now, this is a big win.

Escobar officially enters race for CD16

There will be many interesting and highly competitive Democratic primaries for Congress next year, but this could be the biggest of them.

Veronica Escobar

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar has officially started her run for Congress.

Escobar, a Democrat, submitted paperwork Friday to the Federal Election Commission to begin a campaign for Texas’ 16th Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is giving up the seat to run for U.S. Senate in 2018.

Escobar is expected to make the campaign official Saturday, when she’s invited supporters to a “special announcement” in El Paso.

Escobar, who is close with O’Rourke, was almost instantly seen as a potential candidate to replace him when he announced in March he would challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. She already has his backing in her bid for Congress.

In recent weeks, Escobar had also received support from a draft effort by a national group, the Latino Victory Project. If elected, Escobar would become the first Latina member of Congress from Texas.

Escobar announced that she wasn’t running for re-election as County Judge back in June, which basically convinced everyone she was in. Escobar’s main competition, at least so far, is El Paso ISD Trustee Dori Fenenbock, who has raised a bunch of money already. I doubt Escobar will have any trouble catching up, and she ought to be able to use money she previously raised for her county office. The race that matters here is the primary – CD16 is strongly blue, so the primary winner is pretty much guaranteed to win in November. When that primary will be, in March as usual or later thanks to the ongoing redistricting fight, remains to be seen. The other point of interest will be in who files to succeed Escobar – it would not be a surprise if one or more State Reps from El Paso takes a shot at it. Keep an eye on this one, for if nothing else it should add another female member of Congress from Texas, bringing our state up to the grand total of four, modulo the other potentially competitive races.

Paxton’s preemptive “sanctuary cities” lawsuit dismissed

Good.

Best mugshot ever

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks on Wednesday dismissed the state of Texas’ lawsuit against Travis County and other defendants over the state’s new immigration enforcement law.

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a pre-emptive lawsuit shortly after the bill was signed in May seeking a ruling that the controversial measure is constitutional. Among the defendants named in Paxton’s suit were the city of Austin; Travis County and its sheriff, Sally Hernandez; and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

[…]

But opponents of the measure, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties, have argued the law violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Those entities filed a separate lawsuit against Abbott and Paxton in San Antonio, trying to prevent the law from taking effect. Oral arguments in that case were heard in June.

Sparks’ ruling means the case will stay in San Antonio.

In a statement, the attorney general said he was disappointed in Sparks’ ruling but that Wednesday’s decision has no effect on the San Antonio case.

“We were first to file a lawsuit concerning SB 4, filed this case in the only proper court, and moved quickly to consolidate other lawsuits against SB 4 in Austin,” he said. “The health, safety, and welfare of Texans is not negotiable. We’re disappointed with the court’s ruling and look forward to pressing our winning arguments in the San Antonio cases and beyond (if necessary) on this undoubtedly constitutional law.”

Though Sparks’ ruling Wednesday is a small victory for SB4’s opponents, they must now wait and see what U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia decides following a seven-hour hearing in Bexar County on June 26.

So that means that Judge Garcia will get to decide whether the law goes into effect on September 1 or if it is put on hold pending final judgment in the lawsuit. I don’t think this ruling changes the basic contours of the case, but as I recall if Paxton had prevailed in his lawsuit, that would have put the defendants he filed against on the hook for court costs. That’s no longer the case now. Now we await what Judge Garcia has to say.

Mayors to Abbott: Don’t mess with our cities

Good luck getting through.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott blasted local government restrictions like tree ordinances as a threat to the “Texas brand,” city government leaders statewide are seeking a meeting with the Republican leader.

“We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role cities play in attracting jobs and investments to support the prosperity of the State of Texas,” a letter signed by 18 mayors, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner to Abbott states.

[…]

The letter from the mayors makes clear that they fear the Texas Legislature is overreaching and doing too much harm to local governments.

“Harmful proposals such as revenue and spending caps, limiting annexation authority, and other measures preempting local development ordinances directly harm our ability to plan for future growth and continue to serve as the economic engines of Texas,” the letter states.

The mayors on the letter include those from Houston, Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Frisco, Galveston, Irving, Lubbock, McKinney, Plano, San Antonio, San Marcos, and Sugar Land.

You can see the letter here. You might note that some of the cities in question are Republican suburban kind of places. It’s not just us smug urbanites that would like to have our current level of autonomy left alone. I’m going to say the same thing to these Mayors that I’ve been saying to the business folk that have been working to defeat the bathroom bill, and that’s that they are going to have to follow up all these words with actions, because Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t care what they have to say. If you’re not working to elect better leadership in 2018, which in this case means leadership that is not actively undermining and degrading Texas’ cities, then you’re part of the problem too, and your words have no meaning. The Current and the Press have more.

City of El Paso joins in on SB4

Add one more to the list.

The city of El Paso voted on Tuesday to join the growing list of local governments that have filed a legal challenge in hopes of stopping Texas’ new immigration enforcement law from going into effect.

The city council’s vote to join El Paso County and the cities of Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston to halt the legislation, Senate Bill 4, means Fort Worth is the only major Texas city that hasn’t registered its opposition to the bill. Maverick and Bexar counties and the border city of El Cenizo are original plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in San Antonio in May, just one day after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill.

[…]

In a statement, the city council said even though El Paso is not considered a “sanctuary city,” they voted to join the effort because local leaders are “concerned with provisions in SB 4 that raise questions related to the compliance and integration of the proposed bill in current law enforcement operations.”

“The unfunded mandate is expected to put additional strain on the El Paso Police Department, as SB 4 will add an extra requirement on the workforce that is already seeing a shortage in staff,” the statement continues. “The City of El Paso has a long successful history of working alongside our federal law enforcement partners, to add additional mandates on local resources will only limit officers from performing their public safety responsibilities.”

As you know, the hearing for a temporary injunction was Monday, but there’s a long way to go to get to the arguments on the merits, so it is far from too late for any entity to join in. I had previously listed El Paso as a plaintiff in the litigation, but it was El Paso County; I had assumed the city was in there as well, which was my mistake. No big deal, they’re in there now. I hope they and the other plaintiffs have a lot more company by the time this gets to the main event.

Ellis seeks Harris County entry into SB4 litigation

From the inbox, an email from Commissioner Ellis:

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Despite strong opposition from law enforcement officials, faith leaders, local governments, civil rights organizations, constituents, and advocacy groups, Senate Bill 4 (SB4), the “show-me-your-papers” legislation, has been signed into law. The new legislation unfairly targets immigrant families, allows state-sanctioned racial profiling, and violates rights to due process. SB4 also undermines local governments by forcing them to choose between enforcing a blatantly unconstitutional law or facing strict punishment and excessive fines from the state.

As the nation’s third-largest county with the fifth-largest foreign-born population, Harris County is at particular risk under SB4. Immigrants are a vital part of our community and strengthen the social fabric of Harris County. This new legislation threatens to tear families apart. Immigrants cannot and should not be driven back into the shadows or live in fear because of this unconstitutional law.

Already, local governments have filed suit against SB4, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday in San Antonio. Just this past week, the Houston City Council voted to join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Bexar County and other local governments in a consolidated lawsuit challenging the law.

As Commissioner, I will continue to stand with immigrant families and defend the right of local government and law enforcement to set their own priorities. In a June 9 letter, I asked Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan to seek authorization from Harris County Commissioners Court to join the lawsuit against SB4. I believe it is vitally important for Harris County to fight this unjust law and look forward to working with County Attorney Ryan on this important issue that we both care about. You can read the letter below:

SB4 is a reflection of the anti-immigrant sentiment permeating our society and stands in the way of comprehensive immigration reform. It upholds a flawed and outmoded form of immigration control that tears families apart, increases racial profiling, and violates due process. We need immigration solutions that attend to the complex issues surrounding reform with compassion, efficiency, and effectiveness in mind. And wherever there is discrimination, we must be prepared to speak out and take action.

I’ve got a copy of the letter, which was embedded as an image in the email that Commissioner Ellis sent, here. Houston-area Democratic legislators supported Ellis’ call with a letter of their own that calls on the Court to get involved. I can’t say I expect that to happen – unlike Houston City Council, Commissioners Court is 4-1 Republican – but given the unfunded costs on the county that SB4 will impose, as well as the decline in cooperation with law enforcement, you’d think there’d be a simple dollars-and-cents argument in favor of getting involved. Anything can happen, but I’m not holding my breath. Stace has more.

SB4’s day in court

Sparks were flying.

Opponents of Texas’ state-based immigration law told a federal judge Monday that allowing the controversial measure to stand would pave the way for a nationwide police state where local officers could subvert the established immigration-enforcement powers of the federal government.

But the state’s attorneys argued in tandem with their colleagues from the U.S. Department of Justice that the issue was settled in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a state-based immigration-enforcement provision passed in Arizona.

The day marked the first skirmish in what could be a lengthy battle over Texas’ law, Senate Bill 4, which has been billed as the toughest state-based immigration bill in the country. Known as the “sanctuary cities” law, SB4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and seeks to punish local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation. Punishment could come in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000.

Opponents of the measure, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties, have argued the law violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including guarantees of equal protection and freedom of speech. They are seeking a temporary injunction of the rule, which is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union representing the city of El Cenizo, a small municipality in Webb County, argued that the law, as written is vague and provides such little guidance to officers that they will be forced to use a heavy hand when detaining or arresting someone. That, he said, will lead to a broad assumption that they need to ask nearly every minority their immigration status for fear of violating the provision of the law — the aftereffect of which would be an across-the-board erosion of Texans’ rights.

“The overriding point is that the penalties are so harsh that it’s simply unrealistic for any police officer to take a chance” of violating the law, Gelernt told U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia. “[The lawmakers] knew what they were doing when they crafted the legislation.”

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. The state’s argument, among other things, was that SB4 was less strict than Arizona’s infamous SB1070, and that it adhered to the parts of SB1070 that were upheld by SCOTUS. The plaintiffs’ argument, also among other things, was that the law was so vague and broad it was hard to even say what it did and did not allow and require law enforcement agencies to do; they also noted that while the Arizona law punished agencies, SB4 targets individuals who fail to comply with it. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect while the matter is being litigated; you can read the ACLU’s application for an injunction here. Judge Garcia did not say when he might rule, but he did note that he’s also one of the judges in the redistricting litigation, so maybe don’t expect anything till after those hearings in July. The Observer, the Chron, and the Current and Current again have more.

Houston officially gets in the SB4 litigation business

Well done.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston City Council voted Wednesday to sue the state over its new “sanctuary cities” law, joining Texas’ three other largest cities in challenging the controversial measure.

Council voted 10-6 to join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, El Paso County and several other local governments and nonprofits in a consolidated case challenging the state. Councilman Jack Christie abstained.

A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday.

“This is not an issue of our choosing,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “But when it ends up on your plate, you have to address it.”

Turner, who had shied away from the sanctuary cities issue for months, decided two weeks ago to put a lawsuit to a vote.

He was joined by council members Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Dwight Boykins, Karla Cisneros, Robert Gallegos, Mike Laster, Larry Green, David Robinson and Amanda Edwards in voting for litigation.

Council members Brenda Stardig, Dave Martin, Steve Le, Greg Travis, Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh voted against a lawsuit.

See here and here for the background. No surprises in the Council vote, not that I expected any. One can make the case that a Council vote wasn’t strictly necessary – the Mayor has the authority to direct the City Attorney to get involved – but on procedural and political grounds I think this was the right call. Give everyone the chance to do the right thing, and demonstrate that majority support for this action existed. It’s possible Houston could have gotten involved sooner without this formality, but in a world where we were trying to get a pension reform bill through the Legislature, I think Mayor Turner (or anyone in his place) was going to wait until that was in the bag first. For sure, he’s loosed his tongue now that he’s gotten what he needed from Austin and is now playing defense.

The bottom line is that Houston did the right thing, and did it in time for the Monday court hearing. Better to be right slow than wrong fast, as long as it’s not too slow. The Trib has more.

Getting ready for the first SB4 hearing

All eyes are going to be on this next week.

On Monday, June 26, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia will hear the City of San Antonio’s request for a preliminary injunction to block Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” law, from taking effect on Sept. 1.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) is representing the City in the lawsuit, along with the following nonprofit organizations: The Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the Workers Defense Project, and La Unión Del Pueblo Entero. The hearing, which is open to the public, will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the Federal Courthouse at 655 E. César E. Chavez Blvd.

“Judge Garcia consolidated three separate lawsuits into one,” MALDEF Vice President of Litigation Nina Perales told the Rivard Report Friday. “The City of Austin is now a part of our case, [along with] El Paso County, Texas Organizing Project, the City of El Cenizo in Webb County, and Maverick County,”

[…]

On Friday, the State of Texas dropped MALDEF from a pre-emptive lawsuit asking a federal court to declare the “sanctuary cities” law constitutional.

“We wrote them a letter and said that if they didn’t drop us we were going to ask the judge to fine Texas for bringing a frivolous lawsuit against MALDEF,” Perales said. “We’re the lawyers – you don’t sue somebody else’s lawyers. MALDEF has five cases against the State of Texas right now, so it’s not just about SB 4. They were draining our resources in other cases, including school finance and redistricting.”

The pre-emptive lawsuit was filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 8 before any legal action was taken against Senate Bill 4. It still includes the following defendants: Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, all of Austin’s City Council members, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, and Austin Interim City Manager Elaine Hart. El Paso County, El Cenizo, Texas Organizing Project, and LULAC have since been added to the list.

“Today, after MALDEF made very clear its intention to pursue all available remedies against the state of Texas for filing a completely frivolous lawsuit against a civil rights law firm, the state relented and filed a voluntary dismissal of all of its claims against MALDEF,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel, in a statement. “This now permits MALDEF to devote its energies to the appropriate forum for resolving the many constitutional questions surrounding SB 4 – federal court in San Antonio.

“Today’s dismissal represents only a partial cure of Governor Abbott’s and Attorney General Paxton’s apparent problem with premature litigation. A more complete cure involves dismissing the entire preemptive lawsuit they filed in Austin, which is illegitimate against the remaining defendants, just as it was against MALDEF.”

See here, here, and here for some background. I’m sure there will be national coverage of this, which will remind everyone that we’re not just about bathroom bills here in Texas. Houston City Council may have voted to join the fight by this time, though I’d expect it to get tagged for a week. Mark this one on your calendar, next Monday is going to be a big deal. The Observer, which notes that there will be a hearing in Austin on the 29th for “all pending matters” pertaining to his pre-emptive lawsuit, has more.

El Paso County Judge considering a run for Congress

She’s not running for re-election, so that seems the most likely next step.

Veronica Escobar

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar won’t seek re-election, she said Monday, adding she is exploring a run for Congress.

“I am looking closely at the congressional seat for the 16th district. It’s not a secret. Congressman (Beto) O’Rourke has raised the bar in a way that is very inspiring. I’m so excited about his run for Senate and I think he can win,” she said.

However, she stopped short of confirming a run for Congress.

“I am certain that I am not going to run for re-election. I do think it’s important to provide the community with enough time so that interested leaders can examine whether they want to do it or not,” she told the El Paso Times on Monday.

She added, “It’s a big race. The countywide race is not easy. And the primary is in March. Folks who may be considering it will need to talk to their family because running for public office is a huge decision.”

The primary for the next county election is in March, with the midterm election in November 2018.

Escobar, 47, was first elected county judge in 2010, and her current term expires Dec. 31, 2018. She previously served as county commissioner for Precinct 2.

[…]

Under Escobar’s leadership, county commissioners implemented a number of reforms within the administration, including in the controversial purchasing office and later creating the county’s first chief administrator position that mirrors a city manager. The county recently created an economic development department.

In a controversial move, Escobar in August 2016 voted in favor of giving county commissioners a nearly $26,600 a year pay raise, bringing their annual salaries to more than $89,000. She voted against giving herself a raise, although commissioners voted to increase her salary by more than $14,400. She now makes $102,000 a year.

Escobar most recently led the county in suing the state over Senate Bill 4, the so-called “show me your papers” law that is set to go into effect Sept. 1. The federal civil lawsuit filed last month seeks to block its implementation, calling the law unconstitutional.

While someone with Escobar’s profile would surely be a formidable candidate, this is a strong Democratic seat, so she will have some company in the primary.

El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees President Dori Fenenbock is making her intentions clear. “If I can fight for El Pasoans,” she said. “I am happy to do it.”

Although neither have officially announced their candidacy, both say there needs to be a change on the Hill. ” We are feeling very frustrated and disgusted with our national government,” Fenenbock said. Escobar added, “This is a very, very important seat especially (with) what is happening in D.C. right now and all the decisions that will have a direct impact on the border and El Paso.”

Although the election is months away, both potential candidates are thinking about possible competition. “It’s hard to say who will be in the race this early,” Fenenback said. “But I am really focused on the work in Washington.”

I don’t know anything about El Paso politics, so I have no judgment on how good a Commissioner or County Judge Escobar was or how good a school board member Fenenbock is. I do know that if Escobar is elected to succeed Rep. O’Rourke she would be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas, which would automatically give her a higher profile than the average Congressional newbie. Her departure from her current position may also encourage a current member of the El Paso legislative delegation to run for that job, so there could be a ripple effect to her decision. If you know more about either Judge Escobar or Ms. Fenenbock, please fill us in. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on this.

Dallas gets in the fight against SB4

Good for them.

Mike Rawlings

Dallas is joining some other Texas cities, including Austin and San Antonio, in taking on the state’s so-called “sanctuary city” law.

Mayor Mike Rawlings made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, calling SB4 “unconstitutional” and a law that “greatly infringes on the city’s ability to protect” the public. According to Rawlings, the city attorney has “serious constitutional concerns” with the new measure, which goes into effect Sept. 1.

Rawlings said after Wednesday’s council meeting that he had already spoken with Austin Mayor Steve Adler and San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor about potential litigation.

“I told them both this was a serious issue,” Rawlings said.

A San Antonio federal district court announced Wednesday it would consolidate the lawsuits filed by all of the cities against the bill and designate the city of El Cenizo as the lead plaintiff. A hearing in that case is set for June 26.

[…]

The Dallas city code allows the city attorney to initiate litigation without the council’s approval. Rawlings made his announcement moments after the City Council met with City Attorney Larry Casto behind closed doors.

Rawlings said he wanted to make sure the council was aligned before Dallas joined the fray. He said Wednesday that a majority of the council agreed with Casto’s recommendation to take on the state.

“We are not a sanctuary city,” he said. “We live by the national laws, and now the question is who’s boss in all this. And this is an unfunded mandate. They’re telling us how our police officers should spend their time and not giving us any money to do that.”

Add yet another city to the list. Dallas may have joined in without it being clear whether they’d be on their own or as part of an existing lawsuit, but that matter appears to have been cleared up for them.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia Wednesday ordered that lawsuits challenging Senate Bill 4, which limits local law enforcement policies on immigration, by San Antonio, the border town of El Cenizo and El Paso County be joined in one large case.

Garcia denied a request by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to move those suits to Austin and combine them with a preemptive suit the state filed to have the law declared constitutional.

That also addresses the motion filed by Ken Paxton to combine all the lawsuits with the one he filed. It’s not clear to me why the San Antonio court responded to that and not the Austin court, but I assume the judges have their reasons. In any event, whether one lawsuit or many, the more the merrier. And as far as Houston goes, there may be some action later this month. The Trib has more.

State files motion to combine all the “sanctuary cities” lawsuits

This isn’t a surprise, but there is a bit of a twist.

Best mugshot ever

In a filing late Thursday, Attorney General Ken Paxton asked a federal district court in Austin to absorb two other legal challenges that have been filed against the ban in San Antonio, which is seen as a friendlier venue toward opponents of the law.

In May, the city of El Cenizo became the first jurisdiction to file suit to block the ban. El Paso County followed a few weeks later.

But Texas had filed a pre-emptive lawsuit May 7 asking for the Austin district court to rule the ban constitutional. Because Texas had filed its suit first, Paxton argued in his motion, the cases should be tried in the court it had petitioned under a concept known as the “first-filed” rule.

“The El Paso case (in the San Antonio Division) and this case ask the courts to decide the same legal issues because they are essentially the same case,” Paxton wrote. “Since this case was first-filed, the interests of justice and judicial economy warrant consolidating these cases in the Austin Division.”

Because Texas had filed its suit first in the Austin Division, Paxton said, that court should determine whether other cases should be “dismissed, stayed, transferred or consolidated.”

Paxton also argued that the legal challenges in the San Antonio court should be stopped because the plaintiffs, which include El Paso and El Cenizo, had no connection to that jurisdiction.

“The proper venue for the El Paso case lies in Austin,” he wrote. “There is no substantial connection to San Antonio and plaintiffs sued the Governor and Attorney General in their official capacities. Suits against government officials in their official capacities should be brought in the division from where those officials primarily perform their duties.”

The motion could mean that jurisdictions and groups that had signed on to lawsuits as plaintiffs — like El Paso, El Cenizo and the League of United Latin American Citizens — will now become defendants in the state’s original suit.

[…]

Mimi Marziani, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project that is representing the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, said the state is trying to intimidate civil rights groups to make them wary of joining suits against the ban.

“It’s clear that Texas is seeking to punish civil rights organizations that have bravely stood up against the State and prevent additional groups from coming forward,” she said in a written statement. “Indeed, their lawsuit does not include any specific allegations against groups like our client.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I presume that Paxton will eventually amend his motion to encompass the San Antonio/Austin lawsuit as well. I Am Not A Lawyer, so it is not clear to me what the advantage to Paxton is in doing this, other than his apparent belief that the court he filed in is more amenable to his argument than the San Antonio court. Plaintiffs usually have some burden of proof on them, so you’d think that being the defendant would be the less onerous task, but again, I don’t know what I’m talking about, so any actual attorneys out there are encouraged to weigh in. I do believe that this is intended to intimidate any other potential litigants, though I don’t think it will be successful on that front. In any event, I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

When might Houston file a lawsuit over SB4?

Unclear at this time.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Responding to calls for Houston to take a tougher stance on immigration legislation, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Tuesday he still is reviewing a controversial state law passed this month that allows police to ask people their immigration status if detained.

The advocacy group FIEL Houston urged Turner earlier in the day to sue the state over Senate Bill 4, which also allows for the jailing of sheriffs and police chiefs who refuse federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants held for other alleged crimes.

The mayor frequently says Houston is a “welcoming city,” but has declined to weigh in for or against the law, which critics view as discriminatory.

“The time for good words or for pretty words (is) over. We need action and we need action immediately,” Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL Houston, said in front of City Hall. “If there was a mass exodus of people or a mass deportation of people, this would affect Houston not only in the service industry but also in many other industries … as well as in society in general.”

Other lawsuits are underway, and San Antonio has now followed suit. I think there’s a case to be made for waiting till the pension reform bill is officially signed, which should be within the next two weeks, but not after that. Stace has more.

UPDATE: The pension bill has been signed. I see no reason not to address the SB4 issue now.

ACLU joins first “sanctuary cities” lawsuit

From the inbox:

The ACLU of Texas and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project have joined the lawsuit challenging Texas Senate Bill 4 (SB4), which demands that local governments and their employees engage in federal immigration enforcement practices. The case, City of El Cenizo, Texas, et al. v. State of Texas, et al., was filed earlier this month on behalf of a group of local governments and law enforcement officials whose rights and ability to serve their own constituents are imperiled by SB4. The Plaintiffs include the City of El Cenizo, El Cenizo Mayor Raul L. Reyes, Maverick County, Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber, Maverick County Constable Mario A. Hernandez, and the Texas State League of United Latin American Citizens (Texas LULAC).

“As the leader of a diverse community along the South Texas border, I am challenging SB4 because it will undo the decades of work to build trust with the immigrant community and to use our scarce resources to increase public safety. We will not be part of Trump’s deportation force,” said Raul Reyes, mayor of El Cenizo. “This lawsuit will give a voice to the people and families that live in fear because of SB4.”

“By joining as co-counsel for the City of El Cenizo, Mayor Reyes, and the other courageous plaintiffs who sued the state, we aim to protect the civil liberties of immigrant communities,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “The Constitution does not allow the State of Texas to enact laws that threaten immigrants and the local officials entrusted to protect them. Today, we assert our resistance to the state’s pervasive attacks on vulnerable people and say to Gov. Abbott, see you in court.”

“Under SB4, local authorities will lose control over public safety and Texans will suffer from discrimination because of the color of their skin, accents or background,” said Lee Gelernt, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project deputy director.

The El Cenizo lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division. The ACLU will serve as co-counsel with Luis Roberto Vera, Jr., LULAC’s National General Counsel, and Renea Hicks of the Law Office of Max Renea Hicks.

See here for the background. There is also the El Paso County lawsuit, which is different in nature due to a previous lawsuit settlement that may put El Paso in conflict with SB4. The city of San Antonio may get into the act in the near future, and once the pension reform bill is signed there will be pressure on Mayor Turner to address the issue as well. I’m happy to see as many lawsuits against this atrocity as possible.

El Paso files “sanctuary cities” lawsuit

Two and counting, as El Paso gets in on the anti-SB4 action.

The lawsuit, filed by El Paso County, its Sheriff Richard Wiles and the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, a client of the Texas Civil Rights Project, charges that the law, if enacted, would violate several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of laws; the 14th Amendment’s due process clause; and the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The plaintiffs also allege the bill would violate the U.S. Supremacy Clause, which states that federal law — including statutes dealing with immigration enforcement — is “wholly dedicated to the federal government and may not be usurped by the states.”

“All law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions that opt to stay out of immigration enforcement face stringent civil liability,” the lawsuit charges. “And, persons in Texas, particularly Mexican-Americans, those of Hispanic descent, and immigrants and their families, will be caught in the crossfire.”

The lawsuit, filed in San Antonio, which is part of the Western District of Texas’ federal judicial district, comes after the City of El Cenizo and Maverick County filed suit against the state earlier this month. The city of Austin also voted last week to file a suit to stop the controversial measure, which Abbott and other Republicans have argued is needed to ensure Texans are safe from non-deported criminal immigrants who aren’t turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

El Paso County is in a unique situation, however, because it agreed in 2006 to a court settlement after a local resident sued, accusing sheriff’s deputies of conducting unlawful immigration checks at roadside checkpoints. The parties reached an agreement: The sheriff’s office had to “memorialize in writing its policies that prohibits Sheriff’s Department Deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.”

“El Paso also has adopted policies, which may violate SB 4’s unconstitutional mandates,” the complaint reads. “Specifically, the El Paso County Attorney’s office has adopted a policy that prohibits its investigators from making inquiries into the citizenship or residency status for the purpose of determining whether an individual has violated civil immigration law or for the purpose of enforcing those laws.”

See here for more on the El Cenizo/Maverick County lawsuit. More cities are expected to follow suit, though on different grounds than El Paso and its unique situation. It would be nice to know when Houston will join in; one hopes there are plans to address this after the session is over and pension reform is in the can. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott is out there telling lies about SB4 and its effects. Gotta do what you gotta do when the facts are against you, after all. The Press and the Current have more.

More “sanctuary cities” plaintiffs gearing up

Local governments are not going down without a fight.

On Tuesday, which organizers said was the beginning of a “summer of resistance,” Austin City Council member Delia Garza said the city will move this week to take formal action to stop SB 4 in the courtroom.

“I am proud to announce today, with much gratitude for my colleagues, this Thursday we are poised to approve a resolution that directs our city legal team to take any legal action necessary to challenge this awful law,” she said at Tuesday’s rally, which was organized by the Austin City Council, Texas Organizing Project and United We Dream.

[…]

“I have to preserve the work of these brave leaders in Austin,” said Phillip Kingston, a member of the Dallas City Council. “We will be discussing intervening in the case, coming to the aid of Austin because we have a large city attorney’s office we have lots of legal resources.”

Later, El Paso County Commissioner David Stout said the Commissioner’s Court there voted 4-to-1 to move forward with a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Texas.

“We feel that it’s discriminatory and unconstitutional but also we have a settlement agreement … from back in 2006 that basically states we’re not able to have our law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law,” he said. “So [SB4]will in effect put us in non compliance.”

Stout was referring to a 2006 legal settlement that El Paso County agreed to after a local resident sued, accusing sheriffs’ deputies of conducting unlawful immigration checks at roadside checkpoints. The parties reached an agreement: The sheriff’s office had to “memorialize in writing its policies that prohibits Sheriff’s Department Deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.”

Paxton has since said that El Paso County would be in compliance but local leaders disagree. The El Paso Times reported that County Judge Veronica Escobar said the county would allocate about $150,000 for litigation costs.

There are multiple lawsuits already in the courts or in the works, plus the one filed by the state to try to head this off. The main question I have at this point is whether there will be a bunch of individual lawsuits filed by various entities – cities, counties, and school districts may all want in on the action – or one monster lawsuit with a gazillion plaintiffs. Either way, there will be no shortage of work for a lot of attorneys. One other point is that while several cities – Austin, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio – are gearing up to fight, as yet I have seen no indication that Houston will join in. I have seen some griping about this on Facebook, but so far it’s limited to that. CM Robert Gallegos was at the event in this story, but if anyone has asked Mayor Turner what his intentions are or if a Council member has announced an intention to push the issue, I have not yet seen it. The Statesman, the Observer, the Current, and the Press have more.

Seems like it’s just a matter of time before Beto O’Rourke announces his Senate campaign

Soon.

Re. Beto O’Rourke

Eyeing a takedown of Ted Cruz, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke may be on the verge of declaring his candidacy for a 2018 Senate race, the next best gauge whether Texas Democrats are enjoying the resurgence they claim.

O’Rourke, D-El Paso, made national news last week along with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, when they drove together to Washington in a rental car after an East Coast storm canceled many flights.

Their “bipartisan congressional town hall,” intended to show how members of different political parties can get along, drew thousands of followers via live streaming as the two talked about substantive matters, joked with one another and even joined in song along the way.

The congressmen announced Wednesday that the San Antonio to D.C. trip will become an annual event – to be called the Congressional Cannonball Run – and that other bipartisan teams from Congress will be invited to join.

Along with O’Rourke, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is considering the 2018 Senate race and next month intends to make known his decision.

The whole O’Rourke-Hurd bipartisan road trip thing made me roll my eyes, but it accomplished the important purpose of generating a lot of positive attention for O’Rourke, which is no small thing for an otherwise not well known politician from El Paso who wants to mount a statewide campaign. Name recognition is a big deal, and getting that much publicity for free speaks well to his ability to campaign.

The Statesman has a longer profile of O’Rourke, which again speaks to his ability to get noticed. I’m going to focus here on the inevitable “can he win?” stuff.

Texas Democrats last won statewide office 1994. Cruz was elected to the Senate by a margin of 16 percentage points after a come-from-behind victory over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a GOP primary runoff. Cruz quickly became the most popular Republican in Texas, but his strong but failed presidential bid and his up-and-down relationship with candidate and now-President Donald Trump have brought his approval ratings down to earth.

Meanwhile, this is about the time in the political cycle when Democrats succumb to hope over experience.

In June 2013, Democratic hearts soared when then-state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth filibustered abortion legislation, drawing national attention and social media acclaim that led her to a run for governor in which she raised an enormous amount of money on the way to a 20-point drubbing.

[…]

Trump’s epic unpredictability adds an element of uncertainty for 2018 in Texas as everywhere else and, for Democrats, an urgency to harness all the anti-Trump energy at the grass roots.

“Talk to anybody who works in politics in Democratic and progressive circles in Texas,” said Jeff Rotkoff, a veteran Democratic political strategist who is now director of campaigns for the Texas AFL-CIO. “You would get near unanimous agreement with the statement that interest in political participation by average folks who have not participated in politics in the past is through the roof, and it’s impossible not to connect that to Trump.”

The state Democratic Party says it finds itself deluged with unusual interest by potential candidates at every level, and Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said that even the possibility of an O’Rourke-Castro contest does not distress him.

“Truthfully, after so many years having a difficult time getting strong candidates to run for the U.S. Senate, it’s a great problem to have,” Hinojosa said.

“I think it’s a healthy thing that both of them feel that they would seriously consider seeking the nomination for the U.S. Senate because they think that Ted Cruz is beatable and because they believe that the atmosphere that is being created in Texas and all across America by the Trump phenomenon is going to make a better atmosphere for Democrats in 2018,” Hinojosa said. “Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.”

O’Rourke said he has been buoyed by recent visits to Fort Worth, Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Austin, Killeen, Waco, College Station, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo, Houston, Dallas and any number of smaller town in between, often meeting with veterans’ service organizations. O’Rourke serves on the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees.

Midland, Odessa, Big Spring and Abilene were on the schedule for this weekend.

I’ll address this in more detail in a separate post. For now, focus on the assertions that interest in political participation by folks who had not previously been terribly engaged is way up. The May elections may give us a bit of data to measure that, though we won’t really know until next year. I think we can all agree that getting people more engaged and involved is the first step towards getting more people to vote next year, and any chance Beto O’Rourke or Joaquin Castro – or Mike Collier or anyone else who runs statewide or in one of those target districts – has of being elected starts with that.

Beto O’Rourke profile

From the WaPo, via the Trib, a profile of Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who may or may not be a candidate for Senate against Ted Cruz next year:

Re. Beto O’Rourke

Democrats might look at O’Rourke — a small-business owner with hipster credentials, a Gen Xer who speaks fluent Spanish and looks more like a Kennedy than the Kennedys do — and see a candidate of thrilling national potential, marred only by where he happens to live. But then again, maybe it’s where he lives that makes him exciting.

With its growing Hispanic population, Democrats have long believed that Texas would eventually belong to them — just not imminently. But the 2016 election has scrambled the way people think about these things.

“I wouldn’t have said it last year, but I think he has a chance,” said Anne Caprara, of the Priorities USA super PAC, who is advising O’Rourke on his 2018 potential.

Naturally, others see opportunities as well. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio Democrat deemed a rising star, is considering the race, too.

“You won’t have a problem raising money. Cruz will basically fundraise for you,” said Castro’s twin brother, Julián, the former housing and urban development secretary who recently ruled out a 2018 bid for governor of Texas.

The Cruz camp maintains that it isn’t worried about either but sees Castro as slightly more of a threat than O’Rourke. But while the Castros have the fundraising prowess and name recognition, their pragmatism and caution could keep both from seeking higher office so soon.

In El Paso, regarded by many as more Mexican than Texan, O’Rourke is far removed from the Democratic megadonors of Houston or Austin, and he has decided not to take PAC money if he runs. Still, he hopes to turn a necessity into a virtue with a Bernie Sanders-style approach — excite the grass roots and rake in smaller donations.

O’Rourke may be suffering from the bug that’s going around — the one causing mass delusions that the old rules of politics no longer apply. Can a Democrat really win in this deeply red state — against Cruz, who will be running one of the best financed campaigns in the country? And can he do so on a positive message about Mexicans in an era when calling them rapists helped make a man president?

The timing might not be right for O’Rourke, but that hasn’t stopped him in the past.

There’s more, so go take a look. I think Rep. O’Rourke has been a good member of Congress and I think he’d make a fine Senator. I also think he’ll have a lot of work to do to raise his profile enough to be competitive in a Senate race. Given his electoral history, I would not underestimate him. But the road ahead is tough, and far more people are able to talk about exciting the grass roots than are able to do it. I wish him luck in his quest.

The Observer talks to Rep. Beto O’Rourke

I wish this were longer, and I’d have definitely asked about how he plans to win a Senate election in 2018, if indeed he does run, but it’s worth reading nonetheless.

Re. Beto O’Rourke

You mentioned how incredibly expensive congressional elections have become. Do you see this as a real barrier to reform?

I remember my first official meeting at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — I’d just been sworn in. Steve Israel, who was the chair and a member of Congress from Long Island, laid out for [newly elected members] how we should do our job. When you broke down his daily agenda as to how we should be spending our time, more than half of it was fundraising. It showed me just how screwed up the place was. Because the opening conversation wasn’t, “Hey, I know you came here to improve [health care] access for veterans or pursue a smarter foreign policy or fix health care” — it was all about how to stay in office. It was absolutely disgusting to me. It’s probably disgusting to Steve Israel. I don’t think anybody likes it.

But it’s the system into which people were elected. I think that’s the way most people look at it: to be reelected and to have any weight with the caucus they need to do these things, even if they find them distasteful. I spent about a half-session trying to figure out how to play that game, and then I gave up and stopped taking PAC checks. I decided I was going to sacrifice my ability to be a player in that large-dollar world and just focus on the issues I was excited to be there for.

I think with America’s disgust with politicians in general and congressional members in particular, and part of that connected to the obsession with money and with being re-elected, I think there’s a golden opportunity for the Democratic Party to set itself apart and renounce Big Money. It’s counterintuitive. It means you leave some big bucks on the table, but I think it could be inspirational and could become the brand that will set us apart.

What do you expect will happen in the first congressional session under the new Trump administration?

I’m very concerned by some of his nominees. Jeff Sessions is a perfect example of someone who in every way is opposed to the promise that immigration and communities like El Paso and Texas hold for the rest of the country.

One thing I’ve learned is that very rarely does the moral argument, which is the compelling one for me, persuade anybody. So I try to make the strongest economic argument that immigration is in America’s self-interest. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries, for example, will earn $4 trillion in taxable income over their lifetimes, and I’ve looked at what it would cost to deport them and what it would do to our economy should we lose them.

Those are things hopefully I can get Republicans to pay attention to. No state would be hurt more than Texas should we take a draconian turn on immigration enforcement, and it’s hard to imagine a more draconian turn than what we saw during the Obama administration, which deported more people than any previous administration.

I agree with what he says about how expensive it is to run for Congress and how awful the endless fundraising cycle is, but it’s also very expensive to run statewide in Texas, and he had $211,923 on hand as of his December finance report. If he hopes to ride a small-dollar wave to finance a Senate campaign, he’ll need to get cracking on it. As for DACA, well, we knew what was coming. Read the rest, and if he really is serious about running against Ted Cruz next year, I look forward to hearing a lot more from him.

Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

vote-button

There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.

(more…)

Early voting, Day Eight: We do have a pretty good idea of who has been voting so far

Why such a mushy article about the state of early voting so far?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Because Texas voters can use a single click to back an entire slate, the down-ballot candidates running countywide have ever-slimming chances of influencing their destinies. As polarization and straight-ticket voting grow, the outlook is even more challenging for judicial candidates, who do not like touting their candidacies in a partisan way in the first place.

“It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad,” said District Court Judge Ted Halbach, one of a handful of Republican judges who eked out wins in 2008 and again four years later. “I’ve been the beneficiary and now I face the challenges. But you only can worry about what you can control – and you can’t control very much.”

The 2016 presidential battle, which may go down as the ugliest and most unusual of modern times, could have a profound local impact. Both candidates provoke high negative opinions, which could depress voter turnout or inspire it.

Early vote totals suggest the latter. More than 566,000 ballots were cast in the first week, a record. Lane Lewis, the Democratic Party chairman for Harris County, said the early turnout bolsters his hope for another “wave” election.

“Do I believe Democrats are doing well? Absolutely,” Lewis said. “Five days of voting is not enough to predict an outcome. I wouldn’t say anyone is beating the victory drum.”

Donald Trump’s faithful seem likely to show up en masse, but U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was the big winner in the spring primary, taking 45 percent of the Harris County vote. What will the Cruz supporters do? There is a reasonable possibility that suburban Republican women will cross the party divide and give Hillary Clinton a local win to match what opinion polls are showing in many states. The question is, will they step back to help the down-ticket Republicans?

“This year, nobody knows,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a 2008 Republican survivor. “Will the turnout be high or low? Will they turn out for Trump or against Trump? Will Hillary get the same kind of enthusiastic turnout Obama did? I don’t see it. But it’s true that we don’t really know.”

The countywide down-ballot races include sheriff, district attorney, county judge, education board, constables and scores of judicial seats. The people seeking them this time cannot decide whether to be confident or scared, Emmett said.

“I was at a candidate meet-and-greet the other day, a bipartisan thing, and in talking to those candidates, to a person they were frantic over who was going to show up and vote,” he said. “Nobody knows.”

“We treat Harris County as a very evenly divided battleground ‘state,'” said Harris County Republican Chairman Paul Simpson. “When I was running (for chairman), that was my constant message. It was a Democratic county, then became Republican, then switched to be very evenly divided. Every cycle is a pitched battle.”

[…]

Political consultant Keir Murray, who works with Democratic candidates, said he is optimistic about the party’s future, though like everyone else he is not so sure about this year.

“The problem is, if you are a Republican office holder, you don’t have a lot of margin for error,” Murray said. “If you get marginally lower turnout from your base voters, you lose. Or, if you see some real uptick in Hispanic voting – and they have not been voting near their rates of registration – that would make a difference. There is evidence that this could happen because Trump has said very negative things about them.”

All due respect, but we do know who is voting, because the County Clerk puts out a roster of everyone who has voted after each day, and we have a pretty good idea of how they are voting. In fact, the Chron wrote about this on Friday, so I have no idea why they switched into this nobody-knows-anything mode. It’s true that the question of who among those that have not yet voted will turn out remains murkier, but the evidence we have so far is that there are still a lot more high-propensity Democrats left to vote, more than the number of high-propensity Republicans. I understand having a story that talks to the people who are on the ballot and who are being affected by what is going on now, but if you’re going to talk about what is happening, the consultant types are in a much better position to give you real information.

Anyway. The Trib has a nice tracker of the changes in early voting turnout for the biggest counties over the past three Presidential races. It’s up everywhere, but the uptick in Travis County in particular is amazing. El Paso is also doing very well, and so far the conventional wisdom is that this is good for Pete Gallego in our one swing Congressional district, CD23. That would have been at least a competitive race without the Trump factor, but maybe this time it will be blue all the way down, and not just in the Congressional race.

I went to bed before the Monday EV report came out, though I saw on Facebook that the number of voters was in the 73,000 range. That’s in line with the daily output from last week, though down a bit from the end of the week. We’ll see if things will slow down or level off, or if the usual pattern will hold and the last two days this week will be heavier. Here’s the Day 7 EV report, which brings you up to date through Sunday. The weekend was even better for Dems than the first five days were, so it’s all about what happens this week. The tracker spreadsheet is here, and I’ll update that when I get the Monday report.

UPDATE: And here are the Day 8 EV totals. It’s down a bit, but still higher than Day One was. The spreadsheet has been updated.

Record registration numbers for Harris County

Nice.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As registration closed, Harris County’s voter roster had grown by more than 6 percent since 2014, the steepest increase in 16 years. More than 323,890 new names have been added, bringing the county voter roll to more than 2.2 million.

Harris County is not alone. The Texas Secretary of State’s office two weeks ago reported the addition of more than 1 million registered voters across the state.

“The growth is out of proportion of what we have traditionally encountered,” said Doug Ray, the assistant county attorney overseeing voter registration.

[…]

Mi Familia Vota organizers say this election cycle, which has seen Hispanic people put at the center of some vicious debate, has inspired a boom in participation.

“I have seen something I have never seen,” said Carlos Duarte, Texas director for Mi Familia Vota. “Which is, people approaching us with the clear intention to register. In the past, we would have to approach them and explain to them why this is important.”

In recent months in the Houston area, the group has set up voter registration booths at high schools, community colleges, festivals, fairs and church services. It even partnered with several taco trucks to distribute registration forms. The group’s local volunteers turned in 2,700 voter registration forms this year and handed out about 1,000 more.

It stands to reason that if voter registration is way up statewide, then it will necessarily be up in the most populous counties as well. It may be a few days before we have final full numbers, but I’m guessing 15 million is well within reach. Of interest is that in Harris County, registrations among people with Spanish surnames were up 22 percent, while registrations among everyone else were up 10 percent. Make of that what you will.

A few stories from elsewhere in the state. Bexar County:

A record number of Bexar County residents could head to the polls this election, according to early totals from county officials.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the last day to register to vote in Texas, 1,036,610 people had signed up to vote in Bexar County, about 118,000 more registered voters than in 2012, the last presidential election.

With a few hours left to turn in voter forms, Jacquelyn Callanen, Bexar County elections administrator, expected that number could go up by at least 5,000 more.

“We’ve been busy,” Callanen said over the phone from the election office on Frio Street. In addition to a steady stream of walk-ins, the office had as many as 50 phone calls at any given time.

“I didn’t expect to see this huge swell at the end of the last two days of registration,” Callanen said. “That’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Callanen said the elections office had 500 walk-ins Monday and 1,000 walk-ins Tuesday alone. She credits the almost 13 percent increase in registered voters from 2012 to both a booming county population and the fact that this year is a non-incumbent presidential election, “which also has an awful lot of interest.”

Travis County:

Travis County reached a voter registration milestone ahead of this year’s presidential election. Local election officials set a goal after the 2012 election to have 90 percent of the county registered. As of [Monday], officials met that goal.

“Ninety percent of Travis County eligible citizens are registered to vote for the first time in recent history – maybe ever,” said Bruce Elfant, Travis County’s voter registrar.

He says his office has stacks and stacks of voter registration cards.

“You should see the pictures of the piles of cards over here,” he said.

The Statesman puts that at 725,000 registered voters, possibly more, which is an increase of some 90,000+ over 2012. Harris County’s percentage of adults registered is just under 80%, according to the Chron story. It sounds like Travis County is measuring against the Citizen Voting Age Population, which if so is not truly comparable to Harris. Be that as it may, Travis County has always been an overachiever on this measure.

Pre-deadline stories from Dallas County peg the increase at over 100,000 there, while El Paso County was at 420K total voters, or 35K more than 2012, as of Friday. Again, total registrations do not necessarily correlate to turnout, but no matter how you slice it, there’s going to be a lot of people voting this year. I can’t wait to see what the early voting numbers look like.

The bigger debtors’ prison problem

It’s not just Harris County.

go_to_jail

Last week, an Amarillo attorney released documents that he said showed the city jailed disabled people simply because they were unable to pay municipal fines. According to the Amarillo Globe-News, the victims of this apparent debtors’ prison system include “a disabled veteran on social security who owed $539; a woman living on $490 a month from social security disability who owed $520; and a woman living on $723 a month in disability benefits who paid $16 of a $225 fine.”

As we wrote last week, debtors’ prisons are supposed to be illegal, and it’s been that way for a long time. According to the Marshall Project: “Jailing the indigent for their failure to meet contractual obligations was considered primitive by ancient Greek and Roman politicians, and remains illegal and unheard of in most developed countries. Under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the practice is listed as a civil-rights violation.” America officially outlawed debtors’ prisons in 1833, and in 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that judges could not jail someone simply because they couldn’t afford their fine unless they were found to have “willfully refused” to pay. The ambiguity of the phrase “willfully refused,” however, has left poor people in Texas jails from Austin to El Paso.

In May, an Austin American-Statesman investigation revealed that Texas’s capital city frequently jails people who can’t afford to pay traffic tickets. One was a single mother of seven. Unable to get herself out of debt, she was jailed, while pregnant, for owing traffic fines. She lost her job while in jail, was released, and was jailed a second time because she was unemployed and still couldn’t pay. Another was a 31-year-old mother of five who didn’t have a driver’s license, which she couldn’t afford until she paid off her traffic fines, thus ensnaring her in an endless loop.

[…]

In May, a committee organized by Mayor Sylvester Turner released a damning report that found that the city uses its municipal court “as a profit center.” Of the court’s 169,000 convictions in 2014, only 2,800 were given the option to pay their fines through community service, and only six cases saw their fines waived. As the report notes, nearly 25 percent of Houston’s population is below the poverty line, and they estimated that “at least 30,000 people” should have been given the option of community service. “Attempting to finance the city budget on the backs of the poor criminalizes poverty and destabilizes lives, ultimately doing more harm than good,” the report found.

Later in May, the Houston Press highlighted the impact of the city’s broken system through the story of a woman who is the primary caretaker of her multiple grandchildren, can’t find consistent work because she is disabled following a series of surgeries, survives off of a base income of $390 a month in Social Security payments, yet has still served multiple jail terms due to unpaid traffic tickets.

West Texas appears to be rife with debtors’ prisons too. El Paso, a city of 680,000, issued 87,000 arrest warrants in 2014 for people who either missed their court appearances for traffic fines or other low-level cases, fell behind on payment plans, or didn’t finish community service, according to an October investigation by BuzzFeed News. El Paso made nearly $11 million each year from 2011 to 2014 solely off of fines for traffic violations and similarly minor infractions, accounting for four percent of the city’s general fund revenue.

During one of these municipal court hearings last fall, an El Paso judge told the crowd of inmates that they were there because “you don’t have money,” according to BuzzFeed. Another judge toldBuzzFeed that it would be “unfair to a rich person” to let poor people go because they couldn’t afford to pay fines. The same investigation also found that the city of Lubbock had jailed at least eight defendants who were clearly homeless for fine-only offenses like public intoxication or making too much noise. Under Texas law, it’s up to the judge to determine whether a defendant is indigent, and thus eligible for community service in lieu of jail time.

I’ve talked about this a lot lately, almost all in the context of Harris County. It’s not just Texas, it’s a national problem. There are a lot of problems that are hard to solve, but this is one that shouldn’t be. It’s a matter of choosing to do things differently.

El Paso revises its rideshare rules

Uber gets its preferred regimen.

Uber

The El Paso City Council approved an ordinance designed to ease regulations and fees on taxis and ride-sharing companies like Uber.

Amendments to the Transportation for Hire Ordinance, which Council approved unanimously on Tuesday, requires all businesses have an operating authority permit and drivers pass a background check. It will also do away with 26 fees and cut costs up to 95 percent.

[…]

Other loosened regulations include no longer requiring drivers to have a medical certification and outdated two-way radios. City vehicle inspections will be eliminated and driver and vehicle permits will not be required. The age limit on vehicles has also been removed.

The newly-passed ordinance also requires companies to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles upon request. That means Uber would have to have an agreement with a cab company to pick up a client if they did not have a vehicle available.

See here for a preview of the vote, and this story from May about the direction El Paso took in redoing its rules. They basically took the approach of easing or removing regulations that had been in place for traditional cab companies rather than retrofitting existing rules to Uber. And yes, that means no fingerprint requirements, which as you can see from that first story is not what the cab companies wanted. As is their way, Uber had threatened to leave El Paso if the rules weren’t changed; their triumphant press release following this action congratulates them for becoming “the 13th Texas city to adopt modern ridesharings rules”. One presumes Lyft has an interest in this as well, but as of today they don’t operate in El Paso, so we’ll see if that changes.

Voting rights lawsuit filed over Texas statewide judicial elections

This happened on the same day as the Fifth Circuit ruling on voter ID.

[Wednesday], the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), Garza Golando Moran, PLLC, and Dechert LLP filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf of individual Latino voters alleging that the method of electing Texas’s Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals judges violates the Voting Rights Act. The Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals are the two highest courts in the state and decide critical issues of state civil and criminal law, respectively.

“Courts in the state of Texas should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “Instead, the way in which Texas elects judges to two of the state’s highest courts denies Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect judges of their choice. Bringing Texas state courts into compliance with the Voting Rights Act can help instill greater public confidence in the state’s justice system.”

All 18 high court judges in Texas, nine for each court, are elected statewide. Because White Texans comprise the majority of the citizen voting age population in the state, and because Latinos consistently prefer different candidates than do Whites, Latino-preferred candidates are almost never elected to the highest levels of the state’s judiciary. Such vote dilution is prohibited by the Voting Rights Act and the state could develop and implement a more representational electoral method.

Texas’s Latino citizen voting age population (CVAP) comprises 26.5 percent of the state’s CVAP while White Texans comprise 56.4 percent. With Latinos in the minority and voting polarized along racial lines, Latinos have been significantly underrepresented on both courts for decades. Since 1945, only two of the 48 judges to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals, a mere 4.2 percent, were Latino. Over the same time period, only five of the 77 justices to serve on the Supreme Court, or 6.5 percent, were Latino.

Plaintiffs in the case include six individual voters from Nueces County and an individual voter from El Paso County.

“For too long the voice of the Latino community has been missing from the critical secret conference rooms of the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals,” said Carmen Rodriguez, plaintiff in this case and longtime civil rights attorney and activist from El Paso. “It is vital that we bring the promise of the Voting Rights Act to the selection process of the members of these august judicial bodies.”

Because Texas’s judges largely represent only one subset of Texas voters, there are serious questions as to whether all of the circumstances of a diverse population are fully considered. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hears all death penalty cases in the state. From 1977 to 2010, of the 92 executions of Latinos nationwide, 78 were executed in Texas. Recent Supreme Court decisions of critical importance to racial minorities, including a May 2016 ruling limiting school funding for English language learners and economically disadvantaged students, were issued without so much as a dissent.

“All Texas citizens should have the right to cast a meaningful, undiluted vote for their most important courts,” said Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee. “For decades, that right has been denied to Latinos in Texas. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act was designed precisely to deal with this circumstance.”

“For too long, the Latino community in Texas has had no say in who represents them on the highest courts in the state,” said Jose Garza, a civil rights attorney and partner at Garza Golando Moran, PLLC. “The recent school finance ruling is a clarion call to every minority in Texas: Your voice will not be heard by these courts. Now is the time to listen to the millions of Texas minorities who want a seat at the table to help decide the matters important to our community. I am proud to represent these brave clients and work with some of the best legal minds in voting rights to fight for my state and my community.”

“Being able to participate fully in our electoral system is a fundamental right of all citizens,” said Neil Steiner, a partner at Dechert LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs pro bono. “We look forward to vindicating those rights for Texas’s Latino population.”

Here’s the complaint. The introduction gives you an overview of what this is about:

1. The Supreme Court of Texas (“Supreme Court”) and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“Court of Criminal Appeals”) are the courts of last resort in Texas. They are the final authorities on questions of Texas civil and criminal law, respectively. Together, the two courts render enormously consequential decisions that profoundly affect the lives of all Texans.

2. According to the 2010 Census, Latinos, a significant and rapidly growing racial group, constitute 37.6 percent of Texas’s total population and 26.5 percent of Texas’s citizen voting age population. However, Latinos have been prevented from participating fully in the election of Texas’s high court judges because of the way those judges are elected. That election method, in which all judges for both courts are elected in at-large statewide elections, unlawfully dilutes the voting strength of Latino citizens and prevents them from electing their candidates of choice.

3. The Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals each has nine members. Because voting is racially polarized, that is, white voters as a group and Latino voters as a group consistently
prefer different candidates, the at-large method of election functions to deprive more than one quarter of the State’s eligible voting age population from electing judges of their choice to any of the eighteen seats on the two courts.

4. The Latino population and citizen voting age population are sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in at least two fairly-drawn single-member districts; the State’s Latinos are politically cohesive; and the State’s white citizen voting age majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it usually to defeat Latino voters’ preferred candidates. Because of these circumstances, as well as the historical, socioeconomic, and electoral conditions of Texas, the at-large election method for the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10301 (“Section 2”). Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986).

5. For these reasons, plaintiffs respectfully pray for this Court to issue: (1) a declaratory judgment that the use of at-large elections for the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; (2) an injunction against the further use of at-large elections for the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals; (3) an order requiring future elections for the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals to be conducted under a method of election that complies with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act; (4) an award of costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs, including expert witness fees; and (5) such additional relief as is appropriate.

I found this on Wednesday afternoon via Rick Hasen while looking at his coverage of the voter ID ruling. Basically, this is the at-large versus single-member-district debate taken statewide. If you scroll down to the end of the complaint and look at the list of lawyers involved, you will see that one of them is Jose Garza, who has successfully argued voter ID and redistricting cases on behalf of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. (Both of Garza’s partners, including Martin Golando, are also involved.) Amy Rudd, the first attorney listed in the complaint, was pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC in the voter ID case as well. Point being, this is an experienced legal team taking this on, and it could wind up being a pretty big deal, yet so far the only news coverage I have seen is from Texas Lawyer, KTSA, and the El Paso Times, which notes that six of the plaintiffs are from Nueces County, with the seventh being El Pasoan Carmen Rodriguez, a civil rights attorney and wife of Texas Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso. I very much look forward to seeing how this plays out.

Elsewhere in the local control follies

Well, at least it’s not about bathrooms.

El Paso is billing its effort to provide the indigent and undocumented with new municipal ID cards as a way to enhance public safety and build community. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott seems to see it another way.

“We are going to ban sanctuary city policies,” the governor tweeted last week in response to a question on the proposal, using the common term for government entities believed to intentionally disregard federal immigration laws.

Since 2014, proponents of a local ID card have argued such a document could benefit about 50,000 people living in the West Texas area, including the homeless, the poor, immigrants and the elderly, many of whom lack access to another form of government ID. It would lead to greater cooperation with law enforcement, they say, and could be used to access local services like libraries and utilities — but not to drive, get through a TSA checkpoint or vote.

The cards regained momentum last month, when the El Paso County Commissioners Court voted to work with the city to make them a reality.

But the measure appears poised to pit border leaders against Republicans in the Capitol. And this time, it won’t be the GOP advocating for local control.

El Paso County Commissioner David Stout, who pitched the ID card to the court last month, called Abbott’s social media response shortsighted.

“I am always constantly surprised and stunned when I hear state leaders like Gov. Abbott, who on one hand decry what they view as the federal government’s overreach into state affairs … turn around and seek to interfere with affairs at the local level,” Stout said.

It’s hardly a surprise at this point, but I sympathize. I can understand why there might be concerns about cities issuing ID cards, but if they’re basically library cards that can also be used to get water and electricity hooked up, I’m not really sure what the fuss is about. But that’s the way it is with our authoritarian state government, which refuses to recognize as legitimate anything it doesn’t already agree with, and takes action against it. Sort of makes you miss the old conservative way of not meddling where one does not belong, doesn’t it?

We’re still growing

The collapse of the oil boom has not slowed down Texas’ rapid population growth.

The Houston area added more people last year than any metropolitan region in the country, continuing its exceptional growth of the last decade and a half, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday.

Combined, the greater Houston metropolitan area, which includes Houston, The Woodlands and Sugar Land, grew by about 160,000 people between July 2014 and July 2015. Even in a year when the region was rocked by falling oil prices, the population gain was still bigger than the two previous years, when the boom appeared never-ending.

As a whole, the so-called Texas Triangle of Houston, Austin/San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worthadded more people last year than any other state in the country, growing by more than 400,000 residents, or roughly the population of Minneapolis. Harris County alone added nearly 90,500 residents.

“Our growth has been so exceptional that we are out-competing” the rest of the nation, said Steve Murdock, a former Census Bureau director who heads the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University.

Not only has the region grown more in absolute numbers than the rest of the country – it is also growing at a faster rate.

Of the country’s 20 fastest-growing counties, eight were in Texas, including Fort Bend County, which added nearly 29,500 people last year and expanded by more than 4 percent. Of the nation’s 20 fastest-growing metro areas, Houston is by far the biggest city on the list, with growth of 2.4 percent.

The reason people keep flocking here: Jobs, lots of them, and a cheap cost of living. But even within the period measured by the Census – which started at the beginning of oil’s decline and ended before prices bottomed out last month – there were signs that growth was slowing, though just slightly. Oil prices peaked in June 2014 at about $105 a barrel and have tumbled more than 50 percent since.

“We’re starting to feel the impact,” said Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development organization.

He said the Houston metro area created 57,300 jobs during the period tracked by the Census, compared with 97,500 new jobs the year before. About 22,000 new jobs are forecast for this year, a significant drop.

Although the number of people moving to Harris County from other cities and states had been surging upward for years, it dropped by 20 percent in the period covered by the Census. The greater metro area saw a more gradual decline of 6 percent, to about 62,000.

“The word is getting out there nationally and internationally that we’re not booming like we used to,” Jankowski said. “We’re still going to have people moving here, but not at the rate when the economy was booming.”

Still, he noted that the Houston region has added nearly 737,000 people since the 2010 census – growth of about 12 percent – while many other cities like Chicago are losing residents en masse.

“As far as absolute numbers, we’ve added more population than New York, more than Los Angeles, more than Dallas in the last five years,” he said. “That’s the sort of numbers other places would kill to have.”

The slight cooling “gives us a chance to catch our breath,” he added.

The Houston area also has a fair amount of growth from natural causes, which is to say more people being born than people dying. It will be interesting to see what these numbers look like in another two years, especially if oil and gas prices remain low. I don’t expect the area to lose population, but there’s a lot of room still for its growth to decelerate.

There’s a map embedded in the story that shows the growth of each county. Every major metro area, including places like Tyler (Smith County), San Angelo (Tom Green County), and Abilene (Taylor and Jones counties) grew. The one sort-of exception was Amarillo, which is split between Randall (grew by 1,575) and Potter (lost 474) counties. Some grew more than others – El Paso, which has 835,593 people, only added 48 more. The only counties of any size I could find that didn’t grow were Coryell (population 75,503; lost 4 people) and Wichita (population 131,705; lost 1,250). Wichita, home of Wichita Falls, was the only county in Texas to lose more than 1,000 people. And if you’ve ever wondered why traffic on I-35 is as bad as it is, every county along I-35 from Bexar to Bell grew by at least 5,000 people. So there you have it. The official Census Bureau press release is here, and Texas Monthly, Reuters, Bloomberg, CultureMap, the DMN, and the Trib have more.

On teaching kids who don’t speak English

From The Atlantic:

Out of all the cities in Texas, this would seemingly have been the one where schools knew how to help Spanish-speaking students learn. El Paso is progressive and welcoming, and is more than 80 percent Latino. Its close ties with Ciudad Juarez, just across the border, means that the city embraces its Mexican roots and the people who have crossed the border for a better life. But a recent cheating scandal revealed that not even El Paso could successfully figure out how to best educate English-language learners.

In an effort to improve state test scores at Bowie High School in the 60,000-student El Paso Independent School District, administrators told some low-performing—mostly immigrant students—to drop out of school. And for years, administrators contorted their student rolls, skipping students from 9th to 11th grade so they wouldn’t have to take the state tests in 10th grade and bring down the school’s scores. Others, they chose not to educate at all: Many Spanish-speaking El Paso students at Bowie High School and others in the district were simply “disappeared” out of school rosters, their transcripts changed so they could be shown to have graduated, without ever having finished high school.

After the El Paso Times revealed the depth of the cheating scandal in 2012, the superintendent of the El Paso Independent School district went to jail, and the border city vowed to do better for its low-income, Spanish-speaking students.

Part of the problem is resources: Texas cut $5.4 billion from its public-schools budget during the recession, and a number of lawsuits allege that the state’s method of allocating revenue hurts lower-income districts in particular, which are often the schools with the most English-language learners. Latino rights advocates have been battling the state since 1970, arguing that it discriminates against minority students by failing to fund programs for English-language learners. An offshoot of that case, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund in 2014, accuses the Texas Education Agency of failing to effectively monitor, implement, and enforce programs for English-language learners.

Another problem may be the political optics of beefing up programs for non-English speakers.Texas legislators don’t want to be seen as spending state money on Spanish speakers, says Marco Portales, a Texas A&M professor who studies education trends. “It’s a conservative state, and they don’t want to be perceived as helping or teaching kids with other languages,” he said. “They’re not like in California. California plays up the fact that they teach more than 70 languages. You’ll never hear Texas say any such thing.”

There are scattered programs through the state that use the dual-language method, which teaches children in both languages, but they’re not the norm, he said. Some districts just have English-as-a-second-language courses, others separate Spanish and English-speaking students for much of the day.

Research may show that English-language learners do best when they are taught in two languages, but implementing bilingual education programs can be tricky. School districts in Texas, and even those in El Paso, can’t seem to decide the best method for educating English-language learners. El Paso might be just across the border, after all, but it is in America, and teaching American kids in Spanish, some administrators worry, may not prepare them for the real world.

Read the whole thing. It would have been nice to know more about what the best practices are for English-language learners. The story notes that El Paso ISD and neighboring Ysleta ISD take two different approaches, without giving any clue as to which one produces better results. Beyond that, the two main takeaways for me are that the more you depend on a particular method of evaluation, the more incentive there is for those that struggle with it to game the system, and school districts that have greater challenges to overcome need greater resources to enable them to overcome those challenges. You’d think that last one would be pretty obvious, but it’s not to our Legislature. One hopes that the Supreme Court is able to see it.

The forthcoming fight over the Alabama-Coushatta casino in Texas

I missed this report from November.

After more than 13 years, the feds say the Alabama-Coushatta’s casino in Livingston can finally reopen. And here’s the kicker: according to the federal government’s reasoning, the tribe’s casino should never have been forced to close in the first place.

[…]

Recently, the tribe asked the Department of Interior and National Indian Gaming Association to clarify their legal standing, gambling-wise. In October, the Interior Department and the National Indian Gaming Commission decided that the Alabama-Coushatta (along with the Tigua, a tribe located on a reservation near El Paso) do actually have the right to offer bingo and electronic bingo on the reservation, meaning the Alabama-Coushatta will soon be open for business.

The Interior Department warned both the Alabama-Coushatta and the Tigua to be careful and line everything up with the National Indian Gaming Commission, considering the state isn’t likely to be happy with this development. Bullock says they’re intent on doing everything by the book. “The state hasn’t responded to us yet. I can’t say what their position is. I can’t anticipate what they’ll do, and we’re not going to. We’re going to do what the federal government allows us to do and that’s all.”

At the end of the day, the casino re-opening will be a game-changer for the people living on the reservation. There’s no firm opening date, Bullock says. The casino has been standing empty and acting as a sort of community center for more than a decade, but the tribe has already voted unanimously to pull money out of their permanent funds to get the casino ready.

The story delves into the background of this longstanding battle, the tl;dr version of which is that the casino that was opened in 2001 was shut down in 2002 thanks to the efforts of then-AG John Cornyn, with some court skirmishes and behind-the-scenes maneuvering since then. I’ve got a couple of posts on the more recent activity here and here; if you have a long memory and a morbid curiosity, see also here for one of the side attractions of the original fight, which went beyond Texas and demonstrated was an unscrupulous dirtbag Ralph Reed is.

So does this mean there’s casino gambling coming to Texas next year? I wouldn’t count on it just yet, because the state of Texas isn’t going to just let it happen. This story from last week explains (the lawsuit in question stems from the original fight).

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone issued an order requiring the Tiguas and other parties to the lawsuit to file their briefs on what the federal agency decision means.

On December 9 Paxton filed a brief on the Tiguas case — the tribe has been in a legal fight over the right to gamble for more than 20 years now — on the issue. Predictably he came down against it, contending that “no federal agency interpretation can contradict Congressional intent.”

The 26-page brief referenced 25 court cases and dug into eight “issues” that concerned the state, with most of the issues tugging at whether or not the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior had the right to even issue their opinion on gaming.

Paxton was pretty clear about what he thought:

“If Congress has explicitly left a gap for an agency to fill, there is an express delegation of authority to the agency to elucidate a specific provision of the statute … Here there is no gap. The only issues presented are legal issues for this court. Congress delegated no power or authority to either federal agency to interpret laws or invalidate portions of federal law.”

Outside of the brief Paxton has officially stayed silent on the question of the Alabama-Coushatta. “At this point, we will not be providing any comment,” Spokeswoman Teresa Farfan replied via email in response to our questions.

However, the Alabama-Coushatta come up twice in Paxton’s brief. The first mention comes right at the start:

“Should Texas be required to join the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe to this litigation … without any evidence that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe is currently violating the Restoration Act?”

Then, at the end of the brief he answers his own question:

“Since this litigation was filed to enjoin and hold accountable the Pueblo defendants for their continued violation of federal law embodied in the Restoration Act, there is no need to … add third-party tribes which, unlike the Pueblo defendants here, are not currently violating federal law.”

Translation: The Alabama-Coushatta aren’t currently violating the federal law so they won’t be in trouble with the state until they actually do something to violate the federal law, like, you know, maybe reopening their casino in 2016.

So yeah. I’d continue to make plans to visit Louisiana or Vegas to get my gamble on for the near future. The Alabama-Coushatta may eventually prevail, but if so it won’t be in 2016.

Do homeschoolers have to actually teach anything?

That’s a real question being asked of our State Supreme Court.

TX Supreme Court

In an empty office at the family’s El Paso motorcycle dealership, Laura McIntyre says her nine kids were learning.

McIntyre’s brother-in-law says they were singing and playing instruments. Learning was unnecessary, one of the children allegedly said, because “they were going to be raptured.”

The two will take their dispute to the Texas Supreme Court next week, in a case that involves family feuds, competing legal complaints, claims about the Second Coming, a 17-year-old who ran away from home so she could go to school and a fundamental question that could impact all 300,000 or so children home-schooled in Texas: Where is the line between parents’ right to oversee their children’s education and the state’s duty to make sure children are actually getting one?

[…]

An Texas state appeals court ruled in the school district’s favor, finding that parents “do not have an absolute constitutional right to home school,” and that there is nothing in state law that precludes an attendance officer like Mendoza from investigating whether home-schooled children are actually learning. Indeed, Chief Justice Ann Crawford McClure said, quoting a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, there is “no doubt as to the power of a state, having a high responsibility for education of its citizens, to impose reasonable regulations for the control and duration of basic education.”

The McIntyres appealed that ruling, and now the case will go before Texas’s all-Republican Supreme Court, the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, all but one of the McIntyre children have grown up and are no longer being taught by their parents. But Laura McIntyre said she is “looking for a little clarification” as she continues to teach her youngest child.

The state supreme court’s ruling could have broad ramifications for the ever-growing ranks of home-schooled children in Texas. As it stands, the state already has some of country’s laxest laws on home schooling. (Though, in court filings, the McIntyres allege that the El Paso school district is biased against Christians and has engaged in a “startling assertion of sweeping governmental power” by investigating their curriculum, according to the AP.)

Here’s the AP report on the case, which was heard by the Supreme Court on Monday, with no indication how they might be leaning. No indication when we might get a ruling either, though if I had to guess I’d say 8 to 10 months from now. Seems to me the state’s interest in ensuring that its children all get at least some minimally-acceptable level of education is pretty clear, but there’s not much on the books to regulate homeschoolers, thanks in part to their strong lobby and the complete unwillingness of Republican legislators to cross them. So we’ll see.

The local minimum wage fight

Not quite on the radar here, but it could be.

After years of failed proposals in the Texas Legislature to raise the minimum wage, organizers and advocates for higher hourly wages are going local.

Leaders in two major Texas cities and two large counties will vote soon on raising minimum wages for public employees and, in some cases, for employees of private companies that contract or receive financial incentives from local governments.

In Austin, a minimum wage hike to $13.03 an hour for full-time employees will be up for consideration in September as part of the city’s proposed budget. San Antonio leaders will consider a minimum wage of $13 an hour next month. Bexar County is also poised to increase its minimum wage to $13 an hour, while El Paso County could vote next month to boost pay for its lowest-paid employees to $10 an hour. Minimum wages in those localities currently range from $9.45 to $11.66 an hour.

Local organizers affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation are hopeful all four proposals will be approved, saying they’ve received assurances from city and county officials. But for these advocates, the wins could mean sending a message to state lawmakers who have been unable to garner enough support to raise the minimum wage statewide.

“We just didn’t see anything happening on this in the legislative session. Nothing is going to happen next year … so we decided to work with local public officials in getting something passed,” said Arturo Aguila, the lead organizer for the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization and Border Interfaith organization. “We thought that might send a message to the state legislators that cities across the state are already taking the initiative to do this.”

[…]

State law preempts local governments from setting a city or county-wide minimum wage that could require the private sector to increase wages for the lowest-paid employees, but they can set wage requirements for private-sector contractors that do business with them and for local government employees.

This has left advocates for higher minimum wages to pursue local policies that require private companies that contract or receive financial incentives for local government to follow to same minimum wage standards.

In other words, keep your expectations modest. Texas has no state minimum wage, it enforces the federal $7.25 rate. If that were to go up, a disproportionate number of workers here would benefit; as the story notes, Texas has 5.7 percent of all hourly paid workers earning minimum wage or less, while the national average is 3.9 percent. The prospects of anything changing at the state level are grim or worse; Wendy Davis backed implementing a $10/hour state minimum wage law, but that wasn’t exactly a high profile part of her campaign, and it wouldn’t have gone anywhere in a Republican legislature even if she had won. Local action is the best bet for now, just bear in mind that it can’t affect everyone. Here in Houston, Sylvester Turner spoke in favor of a $15 minimum wage – Adrian Garcia also signed the TOP/SEIU platform to “incentivize living wages”, though there was no specific proposal tied to it – but that position will require some clarity. As the Observer reminds us, “city workers now make at least $12 an hour and are expected to make $13.55 by 2018″. Paying city employees a living wage, and requiring contractors who do business with the city to do the same is a no-brainer. Anything beyond that is a laudable goal with a less-clear path. Getting the discussion started is the first step.

Churches and recall elections

This ought to be interesting.

BagOfMoney

Are Texas churches prohibited from campaigning to recall politicians?

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals [weighed] that question Thursday in a case set to clarify if and how a church as a corporate entity can influence the political process of ousting a sitting elected official.

A San Antonio congregation, Faith Outreach International Center, and two Houston churches, Joint Heirs Fellowship Church and the Houston First Church of God, sued Texas last year arguing state election code prevented them from supporting recall efforts in the two cities.

Ordinances to protect gay people passed in both cities in 2013. Upset with those measures, the churches planned to launch coordinated recall movements targeting former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, along with the entire City Council at the time, and Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

A lower court tossed the case, ruling the coordinated plans from the churches would have amounted to a “prohibited political contribution” because of their corporate status. The court also said the churches could band together under Texas law and form the equivalent of a state-level super PAC, which is allowed to accept corporate contributions to electioneer without coordinating with a candidate.

The state attorney general’s office has taken the position that there is nothing in state law preventing the churches from spending money in a recall election. Like the lower court, however, the state argues the churches would simply have to register as a super PAC, which is formally called a “direct expenditure only committee.”

“Not every payment of money, or transfer of a thing of value, by a corporation in connection with a recall election is prohibited by” state law, the attorney general’s office argues in a brief. “And the statute permits all the conduct in which Plaintiffs want to engage.”

However, lawyers for the churches have dismissed the idea of registering as any type of PAC and are taking aim at the state’s law banning corporate contributions in recall elections, claiming it infringes on their First Amendment rights.

“This is a very live dispute,” said Jerad Najvar, a campaign finance lawyer representing the three churches. “More issues like this are going to arise in which religious groups are going to want to participate in the political process.”

[…]

Corporations are currently allowed to give to a political action committee that is set up to support or oppose a specific ballot measure. But state election code also “specifies that a corporation is prohibited from making political contributions in connection with a recall election, including the circulation and submission of petitions to call an election.”

Lawyers representing the churches are arguing the two statutes dealing with corporate contributions are unclear.

They also point to a court ruling from a case out of El Paso, in which the former mayor successfully sued a pastor and a church spearheading recall efforts, as part of the “chilling effect” for churches wanting to engage, said Najvar, the lawyer representing the three congregations.

In the El Paso case, a state appeals court reached the conclusion that a corporation engaged in the support of a recall. The court said the church failed to use a political action committee designated for a specific ballot measure.

“As far as Texas law is concerned right now, the courts have already applied what is the law,” Najvar said.

I don’t remember the original filing of this lawsuit, so I don’t have any background to give you. I guess I don’t know why the law makes that distinction for recall elections, and without knowing any more than that it sure does seem like a fair target. Against that, I’m not sure what the problem is with using a PAC, as state law allows. Fortunately, this Press story on the oral arguments gives us some insight.

The hearing [Thursday] largely centered on whether the churches even had standing to bring the suit in the first place.

A lawyer representing the Texas Ethics Commission, which oversees political contributions, argued that the churches’ concerns that they would be breaking the law was actually a moot point. He held that, as long as the churches wouldn’t be making contributions to individual political candidates or officeholders, they could post as many recall promotions on their websites and submit as many petitions as they wanted. “The reason they don’t have standing is because there is no case for controversy,” he said. “It is the commission’s position that it is not going to enforce any provision of the election code in a way that restricts political contributions, as long as they’re not coordinated to a political candidate or officeholder.”

Nevertheless, the churches’ counsel continued to claim the churches faced discrimination, despite the state’s continued promise that everything they wanted to do—on the record, at least—was already allowed under state law. When Jerad Najvar, the attorney arguing on behalf of the churches, continued to press the issue, one Fifth Circuit judge told him, “Your clients can’t take yes for an answer.”

Najvar claimed that the “restrictions” the election code placed on his clients’ ability to promote a recall—which no one else seemed to believe were restrictions—were still content-based speech restrictions. Najvar said he worried that if his clients proceeded with recall efforts, they could still face legal troubles. He cited a 2012 case in El Paso , Cook v. Tom Brown Ministries, in which church officials faced jail time for trying to oust the El Paso mayor. The state, however, more than once reminded Najvar and the court that a 2013 case brought against the commission by Texans for Free Enterprise made the Cook case irrelevant and ensured that the churches’ actions would be deemed legal by the state.

Najvar wouldn’t buy it. “Our clients are very fearful,” Najvar said. “There should be confidence that you can proceed in the democratic process and not be concerned that your actions might somehow put you subject to criminal sanctions.”

Which led one judge to ask, “Isn’t that a little paranoid?”

OK then. It will likely be awhile before we hear back from the court. In the meantime, if you have more familiarity with these issues, please feel free to weigh in.

Don’t expect the Harris County Clerk to be ready for the SCOTUS same sex marriage ruling

The Press follows up on a question that we have examined before.

[Harris County Clerk Stan] Stanart isn’t planning on staying open later or doing anything to prepare to handle an influx of same-sex couples should the Supremes decide in favor of gay marriage, and he doesn’t seem concerned about getting the right application forms ahead of time from the state.

Yep, that’s right, should the Supremes rule in favor of gay marriage this month – and the fact that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the resident swing vote on the court, has written virtually every opinion the court has issued on gay rights in the past decade, and has voted in favor of gay rights consistently, implies that the court will find in favor of same-sex marriage – couples who wish to apply in Harris County will still have the flimsy but challenging conundrum of a paperwork problem standing between them and that marriage license.

Why? Well, to apply for a marriage license in Harris County couples have to go down to the any of the ten Harris County Clerk’s offices, pay $72 and fill out an application form. The application form is actually created by state officials and is printed from an online site, according to Stanart. The application form has a space for the name, social security number, address and other details for one female applicant and one male applicant — pretty much the only detail will present a problem until the state changes the forms.

[…]

“I’m going to have to follow whatever the state attorney general’s guidance is. They’re destroying an institution, the institution of marriage, but I’ll follow what the current law of the land is,” he says.

Still, Stanart admits that it should be relatively easy for state officials to fix the forms since the state issues the forms online. (Dallas County is the only county that lets couples fill out their applications online, but every county, including Harris, has couples fill out the same application.) “The forms come from the state and I’d wait for the state to change the forms. I’m sure they’d make any changes necessary and we would use their forms,” Stanart says. “They’re electronic and we’d just print them out.”

Don’t expect Stanart to make the process any easier in the event of a gay rights-affirming SCOTUS ruling. Event though Stanart acknowledges that it should be a fairly simple adjustment to fix the application forms – seriously, all you have to do is delete two words, “male” and “female” – it’s not an adjustment he’ll be making.

See here for the background. To be as fair as I can be to Stanart, most other counties are taking a wait-for-the-state-to-update-its-form approach as well, including Dallas and El Paso. I applaud Travis and Bexar Counties’ initiative – honestly, theirs is the only truly correct response, when you get right down to it – but I cannot believe the state will go along with it. The potential is there for folks who get married in those counties right out of the gate to wind up with licenses that the state refuses to recognize, forcing them to go through the process a second time. I hate to be a wet blanket, because this should be an opportunity for great joy and celebration, but if you ask me, I’d counsel patience.

In fact, someone did ask me. This is an edited version of the response I sent her:

Assuming SCOTUS does what we all think they will do, my best guess for what happens next is as follows:

– Travis and Bexar Counties announce they are open for marrying couples, with their own corrected version of the state’s marriage licence application form. Some other counties may follow, but most others look to the Attorney General for guidance.

– AG Paxton issues an order saying any license application that has been modified by the local County Clerk is null and void, and only the official state form will be accepted. How long that is expected to take and whether there will be any active resistance at that level is unclear to me at this time.

– Not wanting to wait until these guys decide to get their asses in gear, some group of plaintiffs petition a federal judge (probably the San Antonio judge who issued the original ruling, whose name escapes me) to order Paxton and the Vital Statistics Unit to get on it or else. This may wind up before the FIfth Circuit, with the basic arguments being “you can’t rush these things” and “oh yes you can, it’s a stupid simple fix”.

– Just for the lulz, the Fifth Circuit may issue its ruling on the appeal of the original suit, which may or may not throw a wrench into the works. Or they may throw up their hands and say “welp, the Supremes took us off the hook here, kthxbai”.

– Other disgruntled parties may try some other last-ditch rear-guard actions. I have no idea what form any of that may take or if it may have any effect at all besides making us all roll our eyes so hard.

– Eventually, sanity prevails and everyone who wants to gets hitched.

I really have no idea how long any of this may take. I could see it all happening within about a ten-day window, but my instinct is to be pessimistic. This is the final line in the sand.

All the counties within 100 miles of Harris have Republican County Clerks. My guess is they will generally follow the same script as Stan Stanart, which is “we will do what the law says we have to do even if we think y’all are a bunch of icky heathens”. There’s always the possibility someone will try to fall on his sword, but I expect that will be an outlier. I don’t expect any of them to do anything differently until Paxton throws in the towel and the state issues updated forms.

I would love to be wrong and to hear Paxton and Abbott and the rest accept the decision right off, with the state working quickly to produce an updated form, but I ain’t counting on it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if that were what they were planning to do, there would already be an updated form ready to go. Plan for chaos, hope for the best, and be prepared to wait, that’s my advice.

UPDATE: The Dallas County Clerk has reversed course and will follow the examples of Travis and Bexar Counties.