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Elliott Naishtat

More Congressional seats are likely on the way

If current trends continue, that is.

Texas could pick up two, perhaps three, new congressional seats following the 2020 decennial Census if current population growth continues through the decade, political and demographic experts said Thursday.

With continued growth in Texas’ four major metropolitan areas, they said, the state could almost match the gains it made in political representation after the 2010 Census, when it added four seats in Congress.

The Houston metropolitan area has led the way this decade, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday, potentially positioning the area for two additional seats in fast-growing Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.

The San Antonio area likely would be at the top of the list for an additional congressional seat, as well, said state demographer and University of Texas at San Antonio professor Lloyd Potter.

All told, the state’s largest metro areas – anchored in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio – added about 400,000 people last year, more than any other state in the country.

[…]

The greater Houston area, which includes The Woodlands and Sugar Land, added about 159,000 residents between July 2014 and July 2015, while the second-fastest-growing Texas metro area, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, saw an increase of 145,000.

The state’s population growth was led by Latinos in the last decade, Potter said, a trend that has accelerated.

“I can see areas that, maybe historically, were largely non-Hispanic white shifting and becoming more integrated in terms of having people of Hispanic descent, Asian and even African-American in them,” Potter said.

Under those circumstances, it could become increasingly difficult for Republicans, who will control the state legislature for the foreseeable future, to draw the new congressional and state district lines in ways that favor their party.

In the short term, given the party’s firm grip on power in Texas, growth in the state will favor the GOP, but that political calculus cannot last in the long-term, according to Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“There simply aren’t enough bodies to go around to draw what we might call safe Republican districts,” Stein said. “Nonetheless, I think Republicans will find a way to advantage themselves, particularly in the statehouse. But increasingly, what you’re going to find is a black and Hispanic population become an obstacle to drawing districts.”

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. As I said before, let’s wait and see what the next estimates have to say, because things could slow down considerably before the actual Census takes place if the oil and gas industry is still in a slump. There’s also the matter of that pesky never-ending litigation spawned by the 2011 redistricting (technically, we’re fighting over the 2013 maps), which if nothing else may offer some direction on how the GOP might proceed in 2021. With all that said, here are a few thoughts:

– If trends continue and Texas does get three new Congressional seats, I fully expect two of them to be drawn as Republican districts. Never mind that it was almost entirely growth in the minority population drove the increase – that didn’t matter to the Republican map-drawers in 2011, and it won’t matter to them in 2021 unless they are forced to take it into consideration by the courts. Even then, the only scenario under which I see more than one Democratic district being drawn is if the Republicans conclude that they can’t draw any more GOP districts without putting their incumbents at risk.

(I will stipulate here that the Democrats thought this way when they were in charge, too, and that we’d be having a different conversation now if we had some kind of independent redistricting commission in place. That ain’t gonna happen, and I will further stipulate that it won’t happen if by some miracle the Dems seize control of the Lege in 2021. Let’s keep our eye on the ball that is actually in play.)

– I fully expect the Republicans to try once again to draw Lloyd Doggett out of a district. They tried in 2003, they tried in 2011, why wouldn’t they try in 2021? Death, taxes, and Lloyd Doggett has a target on his back in redistricting.

– You can also be sure that they will try to make CD23 as Republican-friendly as possible. That district is one of the few that is still under dispute in the ongoing litigation, and if there’s one lesson to be taken from the 2011 experience it’s that whatever egregious thing you do in drawing the maps, you’re going to get at least two cycles of benefit from it before any corrections are made, so why not go for broke? That will be the case in 2021, and assuming President Trump doesn’t dissolve Congress in his second term, I’d bet it’s a point of contention in 2031, too.

– Moving on to other entities, I wonder if the Republicans will try to do to Kirk Watson in the Senate what they’ve tried to do to Doggett in Congress. It amazes me that Travis County has pieces of so many Congressional districts in it – I joked back in 2011 that if the GOP could have figured out a way to put a piece of all 36 Congressional districts in Travis County they would have – all but one of which is held by a Republican, yet the large majority of SD14 is in Travis County, and the large majority of Travis County is represented by good old liberal Watson. Maybe it’s harder to stick a shiv in a colleague than some chump in Washington, I don’t know. But if SD14 survives more or less intact in 2021, I will begin to wonder just what Sen. Watson has on his fellow Senators.

– I also wonder if SD19, which has a lot of overlap with CD23, might get tinkered with in a way that would make it more of a district that could be won by either party based on whether or not it’s a Presidential year. SD19 isn’t that heavily Democratic, though Sen. Uresti survived 2010 intact and is on a Presidential cycle this decade. There’s less pressing a need for this from a GOP perspective since the two thirds rule was killed, and there’s still that pesky litigation and the queasiness they may feel about knifing a colleague, but hey, a seat’s a seat.

– The GOP will likely try to make SD10 a little redder, and if they think about it, they might take a look at SD16, too. That district can be pretty purple in Presidential years (it’s on a non-Presidential cycle this time around), and with a less-congenial member in place now than John Carona was, it could be a tempting target. Major surgery isn’t required to shore it up, just a little nip and tuck. Just a thought.

– As for the State House, the two main questions for me are whether Harris County will get 25 members again, and if Dallas County, which lost two seats in 2011, will get one or more back. We won’t know the answer to these questions until the Redistricting Committee gets down to brass tacks in 2021.

– The ongoing litigation is as much about the State House as it is Congress, though in both cases the number of districts currently in dispute is small. As with the Congressional districts, I fully expect that the same fights will occur over the same places, which includes the places where the court ruled against the plaintiffs initially. Some of those places – western Harris County (HD132), Fort Bend (HD26), the Killeen/Fort Hood area (HD54) – could support districts that are tossup/lean Dem right now if one were inclined to draw such things. I suspect that battleground will be bigger in 2021.

– Since the debacle of 2010, much has been written about the decline of Anglo Democrats in the Lege. That number has dipped again, thanks to the retirement of Rep. Elliott Naishtat and subsequent primary win by Gina Hinojosa. What could at least temporarily reverse that trend is for Dems to finally win a couple of the swingy Dallas County seats that are currently held by Republicans, specifically (in order of difficulty) HDs 114, 115, and 102. (HDs 105 and 107 are far closer electorally, but checking the candidateswebsites, the Dems in question are both Latinas.) Longer term, if the Dems can make themselves more competitive in suburban areas, that number will increase. This is a corollary of Mary Beth Roger’s prescription for Texas Dems, and it’s something that needs more emphasis. Texas Dems ain’t going anywhere till we can be a credible electoral threat in suburban counties. Our pre-2010 caucus was bolstered by the presence of legacy rural incumbents. We’re not winning those seats back any time soon. The good news is that we don’t need to. The opportunities are elsewhere. The bad news is that we haven’t figured our how to take advantage of it, and it’s not clear that we’re putting that much effort into figuring it out.

New frontiers in social media campaigning

From Slate:

Huey Rey Fischer identifies as a queer, vegetarian, Latino “progressive Democrat on a bicycle.” He is 23 years old, and he’s running for state representative in Texas’ District 49, which encompasses the University of Texas at Austin. A longtime incumbent is vacating the seat, and Fischer, who attended UT Austin, believes he can defeat his six competitors by seizing the student vote in the March 1 primary. Fischer is campaigning in all the ways youth-vote-hungry candidates campaign—college canvassing, early voting drives, a focus on student debt—with a twist: He’s reaching out to voters on Grindr and Tinder, popular dating apps famous for facilitating hookups. (Grindr is designed for gay men; Tinder is for everyone.) On Wednesday, I spoke with Fischer about political goals and his unconventional campaign tactics.

[…]

How did you decide to campaign through Grindr and Tinder?

My campaign was brainstorming ideas about how to engage with millennials. With Facebook and Twitter, people have to opt in—but when it comes to Grindr and Tinder, it’s direct engagement, direct conversations. It’s a medium that my opponents would never be able to use, anyway; it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for a 45-year-old to be messaging millennials on dating apps. We figured it’d be a fun way to engage with voters.

Do you message voters from your personal phone?

No. There’s a phone in the office dedicated to Tinder and Grindr outreach. We let volunteers come in and strike up messages with people on the apps, as long as they stay on message. “Hey, how’s it going, are you registered to vote?” “Go vote in the Democratic primary for Huey Rey Fischer!” “Huey Rey Fischer is the progressive choice on the ballot!” And so on.

Do you worry that you might be abusing the medium? People typically use these apps to connect with potential intimate partners, not politicians.

We don’t strike up conversations. We allow other people to strike up the conversation with us. It’s a profile of me, and it says clearly that I’m a candidate for state representatives, seeking votes. When people message us, for the most part, they know I’m a candidate for the state legislature.

Fascinating, and ironic in a way since Fischer is campaigning in HD49, now held by the famously Internet-averse Rep. Eliott Naishtat. That field is full of progressive Democrats, so any way to stand out and gain an edge is vital. It would be truly awesome if someone with real statistical chops compared turnout in the (say) 30-and-under segment from 2012 to 2016, and tried to determine if this made a real difference or not. Whatever happens, I salute Huey Rey Fischer for thinking outside the box.

Rep. Naishtat will not run for re-election

Godspeed.

Rep. Elliott Naishtat

Longtime state Rep. Elliott Naishtat announced Thursday he will not seek re-election to the House seat he first won in 1990, despite saying earlier this week that he would.

Naishtat, 70, said Tuesday he had discovered a renewed desire to run for office. But since then, he has “been very anxious and stressed about the decision,” he said Thursday.

This week, “I was down at the Capitol; I wasn’t able to focus the way I usually do,” Naishtat said. “I thought through the process again and, I know I’m not over the hill, but in light of my age, my time serving … and in light of some long-term health and well-being concerns, I decided this is the time for me to not seek re-election.”

Naishtat suffered serious injuries in a 2014 bicycle accident.

[…]

Four people expressed interest in pursuing Naishtat’s seat if he did not seek re-election, he said, but they all told him they would not enter the race if he ran again. On Thursday, he said he informed them each of his decision not to run.

“There is a next generation that stands enthusiastically ready and prepared to serve, and that has an energy toward and passion for public service that I cannot in good conscience ignore,” Naishtat said in a statement. “Perhaps the best gift I can give to the people I represent is the gift of new leadership, fresh perspectives, and renewed energy.”

Harold Cook posted an image of Naishtat’s announcement on Facebook. This is a deep blue district – President Obama got 70% of the vote in 2012, so the winner will be decided in the Democratic primary. The AusChron lists a few potential contenders, all of whom had considered running earlier when Naishtat was initially thinking about retirement.

[B]efore Naishtat filed, there was a list of names lining up to potentially take his place: Council Member and former state rep Ann Kitchen; AISD Board President Gina Hinojosa; former Congressional staffer Katie Naranjo; and former [Rep. Eddie] Rodriguez staffer Huey Rey Fischer (he resigned this morning).

I’d expect multiple people to run and for the race to be decided in a runoff. I wish Rep. Naishtat all the best in whatever comes next for him, and may whoever succeeds him live up to the standard he set.

From the “Hope springs eternal” department

Texas Democrats have hope that the upcoming legislative session won’t be any worse than preceding ones.

Road-Sign-with-Hope-and-Sky[1]

Despite all of the turnover in state government in 2014, the Texas Legislature will reconvene in January with a familiar balance of power. Democrats, resigned to a perennial minority, remain outnumbered by Republicans by a two-to-one margin.

The majority is seen as most conservative in recent memory, a reality that Democrats say may augur a tougher 140 days than usual for them.

“The bottom line is that I think it’s going to be a very difficult session,” said state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin. “We are in a complete minority as we have been for a while and on many of these issues … it’s been rough the last few sessions.”

Nonetheless, lawmakers from both parties are quick to note a large part of their work in Austin is not as politically divisive as the legislation that often makes headlines.

“It’s going to be a very conservative Senate, but this is Texas, it’s not Washington, and we have to get things done,” said state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, who chairs the Senate Republican Caucus.

[…]

Some Democrats take heart in the fact that two of their top priorities – education and transportation – also are among Gov.-elect Greg Abbott’s targets. Since beating Democrat Wendy Davis on Election Day, Abbott has been vocal about the need for bipartisanship to carry out his agenda.

“What he’s been saying is encouraging, and I take him at his word,” said state Rep. Chris Turner of Fort Worth, who managed Davis’ campaign and chairs the House Democratic Caucus. “To the extent he and other Republicans want to focus on education and transportation and other core issues like that, I think they’ll find that Democrats are ready and willing to work together and find solutions.”

Longtime Democratic consultant Harold Cook said it is not all doom and gloom for his party’s legislators, explaining they should feel heartened by the senior staff announced so far by Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick. Calling the officials “certified grown-ups” and “honest brokers” with bipartisan credentials in Austin, Cook said they should offer a sliver of hope to Democrats worried about this session.

“Let’s face it, a lot of Democrats are not going to agree with the ideological stuff. That happened on Election Day,” Cook said. “What you can deal with is whether your voice is heard and whether your view is considered.”

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said Democrats in recent years have proven adept at doing just that.

“They’ve been very smart and savvy about cutting deals and holding the line when they could,” said Rottinghaus, citing efforts to slow down the legislative process with amendments and points of order. “To be honest, Republicans sometimes bit off more than they can chew.”

It’s true that Republicans have overreached in the past. It’s also rue that they haven’t exactly suffered at the ballot box for it. That said, Texas Democratic legislators have been adept at playing defense and wringing what they can out of the limited opportunities they have had. I believe those abilities will be tested again this session. I’d like to believe that Abbott and Patrick will govern as grownups that are interested in solving the real problems this state faces. I just don’t see a whole lot of evidence in their past records or the campaigns they ran to suggest that they will.

As such, color me even more dubious of this.

In a private meeting with Houston-area state lawmakers last week, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott brought up a topic so radioactive in Texas politics that even the mention of it caught the room off guard, according to three of those present.

The longtime attorney general, who made a name for himself by suing President Barack Obama and his administration, asked for more information about a compromise recently struck by the Republican governor of Utah and the federal government that could pave the way for that heavily conservative state to expand Medicaid through the president’s signature health care law.

“I don’t even know anything about the Utah model, but it was encouraging because it sounded like at least he’s looking at options,” said one of the attendees, Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who supports Medicaid expansion. “It was like, if he’s bringing this up, he’s not shutting the door on it. I think he’s open to looking at it.”

However brief the exchange, which an Abbott spokeswoman declined to confirm or otherwise discuss, the reaction that it generated in the room illustrates the surprising optimism of some supporters of a Medicaid expansion compromise in Texas heading into next year’s legislative session.

Twenty-seven states now have accepted some form of Medicaid expansion, including eight with Republican governors; proposals are under discussion in seven other states, including Utah, according to the nonprofit Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. An effort to get Texas to negotiate with the federal government on a compromise stalled in the Legislature in 2013, but a coalition of liberals, moderate conservatives, hospitals, businesses, social service organizations and local government officials is gearing up for a heavy push this time around.

We’ve been over this before. The words “block grant” don’t appear in that story, but barring any actual, on the record words from Greg Abbott to the contrary, that remains the goal of any “Medicaid” expansion deal for him and the rest of the leadership. As that is neither “Medicaid” nor “expansion” in any meaningful sense, nor something the Obama administration will touch with a ten-foot pole, it’s not worth wasting time on. Hoping that Dan Patrick will act more like David Dewhurst circa 2003 is the more realistic item for one’s wish list. EoW has more.

On Abbott and empathy

On Sunday, the DMN had this long piece about Greg Abbott’s longstanding hostility to claims made under the Americans with Disabilities Act, even though he himself had benefited from it.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has said he supports the Americans with Disabilities Act, has tenaciously battled to block the courthouse door to disabled Texans who sue the state.

In a series of legal cases in his three terms, Abbott’s office has fought a blind pharmacy professor in Amarillo who wanted reflective tape on the stairs to her office; two deaf defendants in Laredo who asked for a qualified sign language interpreter in their courtroom; and a woman with an amputated leg. In that case, the state argued she was not disabled because she had a prosthetic limb.

Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since a tree fell on him while he was jogging and crushed his spine almost 30 years ago, applauds the 1990 federal law. It has helped provide the ramps, wide doors and access that allow him to give speeches and meet with constituents.

While Abbott, the leading Republican contender for governor, benefits from the ADA mandates that guide businesses, builders and cities, he believes it is unconstitutional to force the state to comply. He has argued that his duty is to protect the state’s autonomy and its taxpayers by using all legal tools available to him — including the argument that the state is immune from disability lawsuits brought under the ADA.

“It’s the attorney general’s duty to zealously represent the interests of the state of Texas, and in these cases that meant raising all applicable legal arguments in litigation where Texas was sued in court,” said Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland.

Abbott’s office has been aggressive on the issue. The state has frequently lost, even before conservative courts such as the Texas Supreme Court. And yet when there has been a trial, it has won several of the cases, with arguments that beat back the charges of discrimination.

Advocates for the disabled say Abbott’s office has worked to deny ADA protections by repeatedly and falsely claiming that impaired Texans don’t have the right to sue the state for discrimination. Abbott declined several requests from The Dallas Morning News to discuss the matter.

[…]

Deputy Solicitor General Andy Oldham said there are good reasons why the state tries to block lawsuits from going to court, even when it has a strong case. Good lawyers use all the tools at their disposal, he said.

“If a litigant had two valid reasons — sovereign immunity and the meritlessness of the suit — she would always assert both,” Oldham said. “Suggesting that the lawyer should waive the first argument and use only the second is akin to asking a boxer to fight with one hand tied behind his back.”

While those bringing the lawsuits might believe they are only asking for “a reasonable accommodation,” there is usually disagreement on what that entails, he said.

“It’s wrong to suggest that the state is unwilling to make any accommodation just because it refused to do everything that the plaintiff wanted,” Oldham said.

Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said that advocates’ frustration stems from Abbott’s office consistently seeking immunity for Texas agencies, regardless of the claim.

“When you invoke the sovereign immunity defense, you’re not responding to the merits of the case,” he said. “You’re simply saying the state is immune for its violations of the ADA and therefore there’s not even a point of having a day in court.”

Brian East, senior attorney for Texas Disability Rights, said the repeated efforts to raise sovereign immunity against the disabled cuts off the chance to fix problems.

“I wouldn’t say they were hostile,” East said of the attorney general’s legal team. “They are hostile to the notion that individual citizens might have redress against the state, in general. They are not targeting people with disabilities specifically, but doing what they can to limit the rights of individuals to use the courts in civil rights cases against the state.”

Noah and Perry have offered their takes on this. To me, it’s a combination of a serious lack of empathy – he got what he needed, what does he care about anyone else? – and an elevation of the abstract rights of states over the rights of individuals. Via BOR, I think State Rep. Eliott Naishtat nailed it:

What is perplexing is that the attorney general is not challenging the part of the ADA that bars discrimination by private interests. In other words, Abbott agrees that private entities should continue to be required by law to provide access to individuals with disabilities, but public entities, including state and local governments, should not. Since when are civil rights protections important in relation to the private sector, but not the public sector? Abbott’s response: The office of the attorney general is trying to protect the state’s interests, namely, its limited financial resources. Once again, the issue is state money, or the lack thereof.

And yet, Abbott benefited from the accommodations made by the Supreme Court, which needless to say were paid for with state money. By his own logic and history, if the Supreme Court had not so willingly met his needs, he would have argued that the court was immune from being sued to force them to do the right thing. What’s good for him is not good for anyone else.

That same lack of empathy for anyone who isn’t Greg Abbott has been on the national stage this week with L’Affaire Nugent. Tod Robberson of the DMN captures this with an epic rant.

And when Greg Abbott claims to defend the Constitution, which part does he defend? Is it the part of the Constitution that requires all men and women to be treated equally and without discrimination under the law? Or maybe it’s the part that says a state has sovereign immunity, and if the state behaves in a discriminatory manner toward certain individuals, such as disabled people, that’s OK. Because what’s most important to Greg Abbott isn’t equal treatment and equal access for disabled people. What’s important is Texas’s sovereign immunity. And the gun rights that Ted Nugent stands for.

Wow. This guy’s a real piece of work. Abbott wants to restrict women’s access to abortion. He invites into his campaign a personality who refers to women as fat bitches and dirty whores. He invites into his campaign a man who thinks of sex with underage girls as “beautiful.”

And when challenged on the extremely bad judgment Greg Abbott is exercising, Abbott doesn’t apologize and rethink things. He defends the decision.

Texans who don’t happen to be white have every reason to question a gubernatorial candidate who invites into his campaign someone who makes racist remarks about an African American politician.

Texans with disabilities must not confuse wheelchair-bound Greg Abbott as someone who will defend their rights. He will not.

Texas women must not confuse Greg Abbott as someone who will defend their rights. He will not. Instead, he will campaign with someone who sees no problem denigrating women whenever he feels like it.

I’m not even sure that Greg Abbott will defend family values, if Ted Nugent is the type of person he will defend.

Robberson expanded on his writing on Wolf Blitzer’s show on CNN – see the video here. Wayne Slater was there as well and noted that the Abbott campaign was shocked, shocked to hear about some of these things their buddy The Nuge had been saying. Abbott had claimed ignorance of of Nugent’s dark side, which is too ludicrous to be believed. Seriously, if there was no one on his staff who knew and who had the ability to tell him, he’s surrounded himself with amateurs and suckups.

From the beginning, I’ve suggested that Abbott’s greatest weakness in a competitive general election is the fact that he’s never had to engage with non-Republican primary voters. He only knows how to talk to a small, non-representative slice of the electorate. Admittedly, he’s not the only Republican candidate with this problem, but he is the only one among them not in a competitive primary. It seems clear that the two are closely connected. I feel confident we will see more of this after the primaries are over. Burka and the Observer have more.

Protest day at the Capitol

Pretty impressive:

View from the Capitol on July 1

The story:

Opponents of Republican-backed legislation to dramatically curtail abortion rights in Texas descended on the Capitol by the thousands on Monday, spurred on by musicians, celebrities and their new hero: filibustering state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

Meanwhile, about 100 supporters of the omnibus abortion legislation marched to the Capitol on Monday morning to a press conference orchestrated by women who deeply regretted their decision to have an abortion.

The abortion rights rally drew a crowd that organizers estimated to be roughly 5,000 people and featured performances by Bright Light Social Hour — the band introduced a new song with one word, “Wendy” — and singer Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.

[…]

Other Democratic politicians on hand were received by the crowd like rock stars, something to which they are not accustomed in the Republican-dominated Legislature. “This is the beginning of something that Democrats and the Democratic party have been missing for at least 10 years,” state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, told the Tribune.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called on the crowd to continue opposing the anti-abortion bills, which have been introduced this session as House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 1.

“We’ve been shut down and told to shut up,” she said, adding, “My question is, Can you hear us now?”

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, acknowledged to the Tribune that defeating the bills would be difficult. “They have the numbers and the clock on their side,” he said of the Republicans. “All we can do is fight like hell every day, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Stace has more on SB1, and BOR has more on HB2. Several other bills have been filed as well – Nonesequiteuse has a list. BOR has a nice liveblog of the event, and if your Facebook and/or Twitter accounts are anything like mine, you likely couldn’t fail to see a ton of updates and awesome photo many times.

For their part, Republicans intend to take away their options, which means no two thirds rule, limited hearings, not accepting amendments, and limiting debate:

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said that if an attempt to filibuster the omnibus abortion bill, now filed as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 2 in the second special session, he immediately will rise to stop it.

“I plan to stop Sen. Davis or any Democrat from attempting, for the second time, to slow down or kill our package of pro-life legislation,” Patrick said. “Sen. Davis and the mob had their say last week, it’s time to pass this bill and I intend to do all I can to do so. It’s time the pro-life community had their voice heard.”

Last Tuesday, Patrick gathered the 16 votes he needed to pass a motion to “call the previous question,” a procedure which would have ended the historic filibuster of then-Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. He said he tried several times to get Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to take the action, but “the Lt. Governor said he was not ready to do so,” according to a statement from Patrick’s office.

Dewhurst wanted to wait until 10:30 p.m., but at that point Senate democrats brought up other questions that had to be answered first, thus stalling the bill further. The time the issues were resolved by 11:45 p.m., Patrick’s statement read, but “the Lt. Governor seemed confused at that point in all of the noise and did not attempt to call the vote on the bill until it was too late.”

Because the vote wasn’t registered in the presence of the Senate, as required, it wasn’t passed, and a second special session that started Monday was called, with abortion being one of three issues up for discussion. Patrick said last week’s events won’t be repeated.

“The Lt. Governor should recognize me or another member who rises to call the question,” the statement said. “He gave the Senator in the pink tennis shoes 12 hours to speak last Tuesday. It’s time he gave me or another conservative pro-life Republican a few minutes to move the question and pass the bill.”

Yes, Danny, we know, it’s all about you and your campaign. If David Dewhurst had any cojones, he’d ignore you for the fun of seeing you sputter. And I’m sure you’d never be caught dead wearing anything pink.

We all know how this is going to end, sooner or later. What matters in the end is this.

According to our most recent polling on this question, a plurality of Texas voters, 36 percent, think that a woman should be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice. But more important for the context of SB 5 and the arguments being levied against it for drastically decreasing access, only 16 percent of respondents believe that abortion should never be permitted — a number consistent with national findings using the same question wording.

Taken together, these polling numbers convey broad support for some specific restrictions focusing on procedures. We don’t find more than token support for drastically reducing or eliminating access. In June 2013, 79 percent of Texans indicated that abortion should be available to a woman under varying circumstances. As for Davis’ core constituency, 59 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of liberals think that it should always be legal and available. As for the GOP: 20 percent of female Republicans think that abortion should always be legal, compared with 11 percent of male Republicans. But maybe more important for future electoral fortunes, there exists a 19-point gap among female and male independents regarding the opinion that abortion should always be available, 41 percent to 22 percent; and one of the most supportive groups of all is suburban women, 45 percent of whom think the procedure should always be legal.

Much of the attention this week has been on the short-term effects — Davis’ rising star, the embarrassment of the Senate devolving into chaos, the attempts to frame the whole event as an instance of “mob rule,” the sense of triumph among the activists who helped force the errors on the Senate floor at the crucial moment and so much else that arose from the five-star political theater Tuesday night. These factors notwithstanding, in the near term, the derailing of SB 5 will likely be rendered a pyrrhic victory in the second special session.

In the longer run, the key question is whether the symbolism of Tuesday’s events will have an impact on the state of Republican hegemony in Texas by stirring up a more potent political alternative. Polling numbers show that the anti-SB 5 mobilization expressed attitudes and feelings rooted in a wide swath of public opinion. Whatever one thinks of their manners in the Senate gallery, the orange-shirted guests were a group of engaged Texans echoing the sentiments of many others, as we know from both the UT/TT polling and the viral response on Twitter and other media.

Whether Tuesday’s events mark a watershed or merely another episode in Texas’ colorful political history will depend on whether a meaningful political alternative to the Texas GOP can capitalize on the symbolic significance of Tuesday’s history-making events and their foundation in public opinion on abortion. This may sound a little conventional, but it’s not out of the question that the symbolism of derailing SB 5, however fleeting the victory, might be the kind of old-school political event that contributes to making Texas politics less a Republican bailiwick and more of a battleground.

In other words, don’t forget about what happens here between now and next November, and remember that we should be the ones making an issue out of this. The Republicans are pushing something the people haven’t asked for and don’t particularly want. It’s on us to make them pay for that. Until then, both chambers stand in recess, though the House State Affairs Committee meets this afternoon, with testimony cut off at midnight as noted above. Texas Leftist, Juanita, Texas Vox, Texpatriate, and the Observer have more.

UPDATE: Stace reports from the Houston event last night.

I do not expect another Ardmore

The AusChron tries to get out the Democrats’ strategy for Special Session 2.

When the Texas House convened last last month to pass, on third reading and onto the Senate for final passage, Senate Bill 5, the omnibus abortion regulations bill, Austin Rep. Elliott Naishtat heard several colleagues discussing whether House Dems would be ready to walk out – to break quorum – in order to stop the measure from moving forward.

Among the questions before Democrats as they face today’s start of a second-called special session, with passage of abortion regulations first on Gov. Rick Perry’s to do list, is whether a mid-summer, out-of-state sojourn may be in the cards. “There was talk about it” on the floor last month, he said, “and there will undoubtedly be talk about it again.”

[…]

With the 30-day special-called session only getting under way today, there is plenty of time for Republicans to maneuver to pass the divisive measures – as one Capitol staffer said last week, not even Davis can talk for 30 days. But there remain other strategies to explore, said Austin Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson – though he declined to offer specifics. “I’m not going to get into strategies,” he said, “but we’re not going to give up the fight.”

[…]

Requiring testimony in each chamber may be one way to moderate the legislation’s forward progress, but it is unlikely to do much to halt the ever-forward movement. So, might a mid-summer trip to a nearby state be the way to go? That’s certainly an option, says [Rep. Donna] Howard. Though, realistically, says Naishtat, he isn’t sure that it would work to derail the measure completely. “I don’t see how House or Senate Democrats could break quorum for the amount of time necessary to defeat the bill – it could be as much as three weeks,” he said. “On the other hand, other people doubted that Sen. Wendy Davis could pull off a filibuster. So what I’m saying is, you never know.” Indeed, Naishtat agrees that at this point, every option is on the table. And it would be “foolish,” he said, for Republicans to “underestimate our power, our intelligence, our mastery of the rules, and our commitment to doing everything legal to prevent the passage of … anti-pro-choice bills.”

I’m not privy to the Dems’ thinking, and I certainly wouldn’t dismiss any feasible possibility out of hand, but I have a hard time seeing how a quorum break would be successful. As with the Davis filibuster, all it can do is delay. It can’t prevent any of this awful legislation from passing, because Rick Perry can just keep calling more sessions, which you know he will. The reason why Ardmore was doable in 2003 was that the Dems only needed to be gone for five days. As with the previous special session, the re-redistricting bill came up late, and it was close enough to the deadline for passing bills out of the House for the Senate to take up that they could bug out on Monday and return on Saturday having accomplished their task. Busting quorum now would be like what the Senate Dems tried to do later that summer. As was the case back then, there was no magic day after which you could say you were in the clear. Maybe they’ve though this through and they know what their endgame is, but I have my doubts. It’s asking an awful lot of a lot of people, and I don’t know how practical it is. I hate to be a wet blanket, and I could be wrong about this, but that’s how I see it.

Two more factors to consider. One is that in the aftermath of Ardmore and Albuquerque, there were some rule changes made in each chamber to make future quorum busts more difficult and more punitive to the fleeing party. I don’t remember the details, but I do feel confident that the Rs would be extremely vengeful towards a caucus that skipped town. Two, back in 2003 the Governors of Oklahoma and New Mexico were both Democrats, and thus unwilling to cooperate with the efforts to locate and extradite the Killer Ds. Both Governors are Republicans now, so no such assistance would be in the offing. The only neighboring state now with a Democratic Governor is Arkansas, but I would not want to put my fate in that state’s hands. The nearest state where I’d feel safe, politically speaking at least, is Colorado. Point being, any out of state excursion would need to be done by air, not by bus, which increases the cost, the risk factor, and the likelihood of something going wrong because there’s just too much you can’t control.

Anyway. If it were up to me, I’d do everything I could to drag the proceedings out, while giving the crazier members of the GOP caucus as many opportunities to say something as stupid as Rep. Laubenberg did last session, and I’d lay whatever groundwork I could for litigation to block the law. The name of the game is the 2014 election. Go down fighting, keep everyone engaged, and be ready to pick up where you left off as soon as the session ends. Be sure to read the whole AusChron story, there’s a lot more in there besides quorum breaking.

White Ds and non-white Rs

A few points to make about this.

White Democrats are an increasingly vanishing species in the Texas Legislature, where there will be only 10 when the new legislative session starts in early January.

The face of the Legislature has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past 25 years, and the state’s rapidly changing demographics are expected to guarantee even more profound changes over the next quarter century.

Twenty years ago, the Legislature included 83 white Democrats. Today, the white Democratic lawmaker is a rarity in the 181-member Legislature.

Vanishing rural, white Democrats account for most of the changes. There were 56 rural, white Democrats sitting in the 1987-88 Texas Legislature. Today, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, (Zavala County) is the only rural white Democrat remaining. He did not return phone calls for comment.

The Chron needs to check its math. By my count, there will 11 Anglo Dems sworn in to the Lege in 2013:

Rep. Craig Eiland – HD23
Rep. Donna Howard – HD48
Rep. Elliott Naishtat – HD49
Rep. Mark Strama – HD50
Rep. Joe Pickett – HD79
Rep. Tracy King – HD80
Rep. Lon Burnam – HD90
Rep. Chris Turner – HD101

Sen. Wendy Davis – SD10
Sen. Kirk Watson – SD14
Sen. John Whitmire – SD15

I suspect Rep. Chris Turner, who was elected in 2008 then wiped out in 2010 before coming back in a newly-drawn district this year, is the one they overlooked. Note that in the three biggest counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar), there are no Anglo Dems in the House and only one in the Senate. After the 2008 election, Harris had Reps. Scott Hochberg, Ellen Cohen, and Kristi Thibaut; Dallas had Reps. Robert Miklos, Carol Kent, Kirk England, and Allen Vaught; and Bexar had Rep. David Leibowitz. All except Hochberg were defeated in the 2010 massacre, and Hochberg retired after the 2011 session.

You really can’t overstate the effect of the 2010 election. As I said before, the loss of all those rural Dems means that the road back to parity for Democrats is that much steeper. It also significantly de-honkified the existing party. The rural Dems were for the most part dead men walking whether they realized it or not, but losing them all at once rather than over the course of several cycles radically changed things. The Dems have a number of possible pickup opportunities for 2014, some of which may elect Anglo Dems, but even in a wildly optimistic scenario, you’re looking at a tough slog to get to 60, and that’s a long way from parity, even farther away than they were after the 2002 election. Beyond that, you’re either waiting for demographic change in some of the suburban districts, or hoping for some kind of external game-changer. It’s not a pretty picture, at least in the short term.

The long term is a different story, even if the writing on the wall is in a six-point font:

For years, Republicans made a high priority of targeting white Democrats for defeat, via election when they could win, or redistricting when they couldn’t, contended former Texas Democratic Party executive director Harold Cook.

“The irony is that in their efforts to limit Democrats to minority real estate through redistricting, they also separated themselves from the fastest growing demography. In 20 years they may well see that they wrote their own political obituary,” Cook said.

Twenty years is an awfully long time, and I think we can all agree that way too many things can affect current trajectories to have any confidence in them. That said, while there are 11 Anglo Dems out of 67 total Dems in the Lege (16 percent of the total), there are all of six non-Anglo Republicans out of 114 total, which is five percent. (The six are, by my count, Reps. JM Lozano, Larry Gonzales, Jason Villalba, James White, Stefani Carter, and Angie Chen Button.) That’s down from eight last session – nine if you count Dee Margo – as Reps. Aliseda, Garza, Pena, and Torres departed but only Villalba and the turncoat Lozano arrived. To Cook’s point, Aliseda, Pena, and Torres were all adversely affected by redistricting – Aliseda and Pena (another turncoat) declined to run because they didn’t have a winnable district, and Torres ran for Senate after being paired with Connie Scott, who wound up losing by 15 points. Only Garza had a shot at re-election, and his district was a major point of contention in the redistricting litigation. Barring a 2010-style election in 2014, the Rs don’t have many obvious targets in Latino-heavy districts. You can’t assume the current trajectory will continue, but as long as it does this is the way it’s going.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, I also overlooked an incoming freshman, Rep. Scott Turner in the new HD33, who is a non-white Republican, thus upping that total to seven. My apologies for the oversight.

Get ready for the special session

Ready or not, here they come back. And with the start of the special session comes a little surprise.

Gov. Rick Perry and legislative leaders hope to move through a series of bills quickly during the special session that begins tomorrow, starting with the fiscal issues that forced the session and continuing on through other controversial legislation, including congressional redistricting, reforms to the state’s windstorm insurance program, and legislation loosening state mandates on public education, sources said Monday.

The governor has talked to legislative leaders about including several items in the special session, but not all at once. Instead, they’re talking about trying to pass legislation in series, moving quickly and adding items to the call as each item wins passage, according to sources.

Congressional maps “are ready to go tomorrow morning, if [Perry] wants them” said state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. He wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the maps, but said that he and his redistricting counterpart in the House, Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would start with identical maps.

If they have “identical” maps ready to go now, it makes you wonder how it is they didn’t have them a week ago, when overtime would not have been needed. The least surprising part of this is that the maps in question would be sprung on everyone without any advanced notice. If the Republicans could pass a map without any input from the public, they would. We’ll see what they have in mind.

As for the rest of the potential issues that may be added to the call, I would just point out that despite what some Republicans may want you to believe, whatever is on the agenda is up to Rick Perry. That’s true with the failure of SB1811, and it was true with windstorm insurance. Perry does whatever it is he wants to do, he doesn’t need to be goaded into anything. The Governor made “sanctuary cities” an emergency item. If it was that important to him, it was always within his power to force the issue. As for claims that the Republicans might somehow make school finance worse as payback, they’ll have to vote for whatever they produce, too. As Nate Blakeslee pointed out, several of them in the House voted against SB1811 the first time, enough to make its passage not a slam dunk. I suppose they could cut funding further, but it’s a little hard for me to believe that the Senate, which pushed so hard for more funding for schools, to the point of conjuring up all kinds of budgetary alchemy to make it look like there were more funds available than the House was otherwise willing to use, would throw that all away in a fit of pique. I guess we’ll find out.

I should note that the Democrats will try to play a little offense during the overtime period as well.

Mild-mannered Texas House member Elliott Naishtat, the VISTA worker from Queens who came to the Lone Star State and stayed, has a message for U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Ayn Rand disciple who is steeling congressional Republicans’ spines for the hard job of taming the welfare state: We will bury you.

Naishtat, D-Austin (at right in May 11 AP photo), put state Republicans on notice Monday that he and other Texas Democrats soon will try to link the Legislature’s recent work on an interstate health care compact to a Medicare overhaul the U.S. House recently endorsed at the urging of Ryan, R-Wisc.

“Voters pay attention when you mess with their health care,” Naishtat said. “Last week, we all watched voters in a very conservative district in New York, my home state, elected a Democrat to the U.S. Congress.” Naishtat referred to Democrat Kathy Hochul’s special election upset victory in a U.S. House district, stretching from Buffalo to Rochester, that has been in Republican hands for four decades.

Will that resonate, or will it just distract from the message about what’s going on with school finance? I have no idea, but for sure there’s no lack of material. Dems will need to run with all of it between now and next November. How well they make their case will be what it’s all about. A letter from Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to Rick Perry about the special session is here, and you can see the official call here.

Lege approves separate online sales tax bills

It’s a start.

Taking a stand against Internet retailers like Amazon.com, the Texas House moved Tuesday to tighten the state’s rules on when online businesses must collect sales tax.

By voting 122-23 to pass House Bill 2403 by Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, lawmakers made their clearest statement to date that they are siding with state Comptroller Susan Combs in her push to force Amazon and other online retailers to collect taxes on sales made to Texans.

[…]

Otto’s bill aims to eliminate what he has called loopholes in the law about what constitutes a physical presence.

The bill amends the state tax code to clarify that a “seller or retailer” is required to collect sales tax if:

• The business “maintains, occupies, or uses in this state permanently, temporarily, directly, or indirectly or through a subsidiary or agent by whatever name, an office, distribution center, sales or sample room or place, warehouse, storage place, or any other physical location where business is conducted.”

• The seller is “entrusted with possession of tangible personal property” through an agreement with another business or entity and is authorized to sell, rent or lease the property.

The bill also clarifies that a person or business is considered to be a retailer if they hold a “substantial ownership interest” in any entity that conducts those activities in Texas.

The final version of the bill removes language from the original version that would have designated the use of a website on a server in Texas as an activity that established physical presence.

Here’s HB2403. By my count, four Democrats voted against it. I don’t know if that’s because they agree with the position that Amazon should not be subject to sales tax, or if they wanted a bill that went further, like Rep. Elliott Naishtat’s HB1317. For what it’s worth, Naishtat was listed as a coauthor of HB2403, and voted for it. Otto’s bill doesn’t have a Senate sponsor yet, but Sen. Royce West’s companion bill SB1798 – which doesn’t yet have a House sponsor – was approved on Friday after sitting on the intent calendar for a couple of days, so now it’s just a matter of one of these bills getting voted on by the other chamber. I think one way or another this will get done, but the clock is ticking.

House ponders what to do about Amazon

My guess is that they ultimately won’t do anything this session, but it’s good to see the matter discussed by the Ways and Means Committee. If nothing else, it may lay the groundwork for a future session.

House Bill 1317 by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, and House Bill 2403, by Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton are aimed at finding ways to force Amazon and other retailers to collect taxes on online sales that involve Texas consumers or so-called affiliate marketers in Texas, who make a commission by steering customers to Amazon’s website.

Both bills seek to address what constitutes having a physical presence in the state. Under a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision, retailers with a physical presence in a state can be required to collect sales taxes, legal experts say.

The committee heard pleas from retailers who said they increasingly can’t compete with online sellers who don’t collect sales tax.

[…]

Naishtat said his bill is “a method by which we, the legislators, can level the playing field between law-abiding Texas retailers who collect and remit sales tax and those out-of-state retailers who do not. Not only will this clarification of law help our troubled Texas retailers, it will also generate revenue for Texas without new taxes or a tax increase.”

A fiscal note released Monday from the Legislative Budget Board projected that Naishtat’s bill would have no significant affect on the state budget, because it anticipates “major online retailers” would cancel their agreements with Texas affiliates.

Otto said his bill would establish a “fair and equitable” system by clarifying what constitutes a physical presence in the State of Texas.

“If this issue is not addressed, then we are inviting new and existing businesses to structure in avoidance of the collection of our sales tax,” Otto said. “To me, this is about making sure our tax laws are applied fairly and equally to all Texas businesses.”

The fiscal note on Otto’s bill projects that the state would collect an additional $6 million in 2012 and $10 million in 2013, rising to $18 million in 2016.

Noticeably absent from the hearing docket was House Bill 2719, a pro-Amazon measure filed by state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving. That bill would amend the state tax code to say that a company can’t be classified as a retailer required to collect sales tax if it, or a subsidiary, operates or uses “only a fulfillment center … or a computer server” in Texas.

I’ll say again, I think the ultimate solution to this is Congressional action. The original justification for exempting online retail from sales taxes has long been obsolete, and is now a real drag on local and state governments. One way to force Congressional action is for a bunch of states to implement their own solutions, thus making the case for a single standard to be applied. I don’t expect Texas to do anything about it now, but I believe it will eventually.

More on Combs v. Perry over Amazon

The Trib has a good story that explains the background of the Perry-Combs smackdown over Amazon. There’s another player in this fight, and they’re on the Comptroller’s side:

Retailers who charge sales taxes employ thousands of Texans, and some of those sellers are in tough financial straits. Giving a price advantage to their out-of-state rivals doesn’t seem fair, they argue. Amazon didn’t answer requests for comment.

The legislative and political fight has all sides lobbying and lawyering up. Amazon has focused on the tax fight, leaving the legislative battles to Luis Saenz, a former campaign manager for Rick Perry who is the company’s lone lobbyist in Austin. He’s outnumbered by lobbyists for various trade groups and big stores. For example, Mike Toomey, the governor’s former chief of staff, is working for parity between the different types of sellers. So is Eric Bearse, a former Perry speechwriter and spokesman.

The comptroller argues that the physical presence is the trigger — not whether the company operates a cash register in the state.

The difference isn’t over the taxes owed, but over who should be sending them to the state. You might not know this, but if you buy something that’s taxable in Texas, you owe the taxes whether the seller collects them from you or not. That’s true for over-the-counter sales, mail-order sales or online sales. It’s called the use tax, and it’s the state’s levy on purchases from companies that don’t have a physical presence, or “nexus,” in Texas.

If a company does have operations here — and nexus exists — it is supposed to collect sales taxes from customers and remit them to the state. The state pays retailers for their trouble giving them 0.5 percent of the sales taxes they collect to cover their costs.

[…]

“Our official position is that if you have a physical presence in the state, and employees in the state, you have nexus,” says Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, a business trade group that does research and lobbying on fiscal and tax issues. “The comptroller is basically taking the heat for doing what the law requires her to do.”

Combs did an audit of the company and followed with a demand that Amazon pay $269 million in uncollected sales taxes for the four years from December 2005 to December 2009. The amount came to light in regulatory filings by the company late last year, and the fight has now gone to the lawyers. Amazon wants the state to share its audit of the company, and has started its challenge in the State Office of Administrative Hearings, a precursor to a full court fight.

Along those lines, a few Democratic legislators have asked Combs to show her work.

Three state lawmakers are calling on Texas Comptroller Susan Combs to explain how her office arrived at the assessment it levied last year against Amazon.com for uncollected sales taxes.

The letter — sent Tuesday by state Reps. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, and Jessica Farrar, D-Houston — asks for a meeting this week with Combs.

Last year, Combs sent Amazon a notice that it is responsible for $269 million in sales tax. Amazon has disputed that assessment.

In their letter, Gallego, Castro and Farrar say it is “fundamentally unfair” to tell Amazon it owes millions in uncollected sales taxes without explaining how the state arrived at that figure. “Texans have never accepted ‘taxation without representation,’ not should they accept ‘taxation without explanation’…” the letter says.

Comptroller’s spokesman Allen Spelce, however, disputed the contention that Amazon wasn’t told how the assessment was made.

“It’s inaccurate to say that we did not release the details of (Amazon’s) tax bill. We did explain to them how the tax bill was calculated,” Spelce said.

Spelce said Combs or someone from her staff would be available to meet with Gallego, Castro and Farrar.

Here’s a copy of that letter yet, which seems eminently reasonable to me. In the meantime, State Rep. Elliott Naishtat has filed a bill that would settle the matter.

House Bill 1317 defines a taxable retailer as one that brings in at least $10,000 a year in Texas or has an agreement with a Texas resident “for directly or indirectly referring potential customers to the retailer.”

The bill “is modeled after laws that have been passed in other states to make it a clear connection between companies doing business in those states and having to collect sales tax,” Naishtat said. “This bill will generate hundreds of millions of dollars for Texas. I would be surprised if Gov. Perry has a problem with this.”

Let’s just say that my capacity for being surprised by the Governor is not as large as that. Perhaps some of those high-powered lobbyists that the retailers have on their side can help grease the skids a bit. I most certainly support this bill, but color me dubious as to its odds of getting passed. Patricia Kilday Hart has more.

UPDATE: Combs responds to the letter, and pushed back against Perry.