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Eric Johnson

It sure looks like Dennis Bonnen will be the next Speaker

The Speaker’s race is over before it started, basically.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen announced Monday that he has support from 109 members to become the next speaker of the Texas House. That number, if it holds, is more than enough votes for him to win the gavel.

The Angleton Republican’s announcement comes after four other speaker candidates — Republicans Tan Parker, Four Price and Phil King, along with Democrat Eric Johnson — dropped out of the race in the last 48 hours. All four endorsed Bonnen upon removing their names from consideration. Bonnen said during a news conference at the Texas Capitol on Monday afternoon that his team plans to release the list of 109 members supporting his bid soon.

“We are here to let you know the speaker’s race is over, and the Texas House is ready to go to work,” said Bonnen, who was flanked by at least two members of the hardline conservative Texas House Freedom Caucus — Jeff Leach of Plano and Mike Lang of Granbury — and state Rep. Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican and former speaker, among other Republican and Democrats. When asked by reporters what the House’s No. 1 priority would be during the 2019 legislative session, Bonnen suggested school finance would be at the top of members’ lists.

[…]

During Monday’s press conference, Bonnen dumped cold water on rumors that there would be no Democratic chairs under his leadership — adding that he would adhere to the House tradition of being a “bipartisan chamber.”

“We are excited to bring the house together, to be unified and to do good work for the people of Texas,” he said.

See here and here for some background. All of the other Speaker wannabes have since withdrawn and gotten behind Bonnen as well. The dominoes really started to fall when Rep. Four Price dropped out on Sunday and endorsed Bonnen. Then the tweets started flying, with a 3 PM press conference announced, and Democratic Rep. Eric Johnson announced his withdrawal and endorsement of Bonnen an hour or so ahead of that, and the next thing you know Rep. Bonnen is announcing his 109 supporters and getting cautious kudos from Rep. Chris Turner, the House Dem Caucus leader. There may still be some bumps in the road from those who had previously committed to other candidates, but honestly that’s a bump on a log. Your average Alabama football game has more suspense about who’s going to win at this point. Look to see who gets named to Committee chairs, and then we’ll see how spicy this session may be.

Now how about that Speaker’s race?

It’s a little different now.

Rep. Eric Johnson

Democrats picked up 12 state House seats and are now confident they’ll have a stronger hand in electing the next leader. It’s an outlook even some Republicans agree with, although they’ll only say so privately. But while the GOP’s 95-55 stronghold shrank, they still appear to hold 83 seats — comfortably above the 76 votes a candidate needs to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Election night strengthened the Democratic caucus and a renewed commitment to taking our time,” said state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin. “We have time to be thoughtful. We mattered at 55, and we matter even more now at 67.”

But of the six declared Republican speaker candidates, two told The Texas Tribune that the state of the race hasn’t changed much — despite the fact that their party lost a considerable number of seats.

Republican Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, who launched his bid in August, said he didn’t think Tuesday’s results will impact his party’s role in determining who will replace Straus on the dais — and that he still has a “viable path forward” after Tuesday.

“I didn’t lose any supporters [Tuesday] night, by my calculus,” he told the Tribune. “I think it is going to prove to be helpful to me not because we lost Republican seats, but because we’re bringing in a new energy.”

Phil King of Weatherford, who filed to run for speaker before Straus announced his retirement, said the race will still be settled exclusively within the 150-member lower chamber even if it does have a new balance of political power. And King pointed to an upcoming GOP caucus meeting scheduled for Dec. 1, when members are set to rally around their preferred speaker candidate ahead of the full floor vote in January.

[…]

Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas, the only Democrat to throw his hat in the ring to replace Straus, is bullish that his party’s 12-member gain means that a lawmaker from the minority party can win the speakership.

“My perspective on this is pretty straight-forward: Democrats should stop being defeatist in their mentality and start thinking about the speaker’s race in terms of us sticking together — we have 67 votes and are nine away from the majority,” Johnson said. “If we start thinking in terms of finding nine Republicans who will join with us, we can change the conversation from ‘which Republican is it going to be’ to whether we can elect one of our own as speaker. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t be thinking that way.”

I think the odds of Speaker Eric Johnson are extremely slim, but as a matter of strategy, Rep. Johnson has it right. The more united the Dems are, the more influence they will have. As the story notes, some Dems have met with Dennis Bonnen, which fuels my speculation that he was recruited by the Straus disciples for the purpose of garnering enough Dem support to win the job. That said, as the story also notes, the smaller Republican caucus means the number of them needed to form a majority and declare their choice is smaller. Assuming they all agree to support their majority-of-the-majority choice, of course. I suspect there will be plenty more drama and intrigue before it’s all over. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Four Price has dropped his bid to be Speaker and has endorsed Dennis Bonnen. I didn’t see this in time for this post. I’ll post about that story tomorrow.

Zerwas out, Bonnen in for Speaker

A harbinger of intrigue.

Rep. John Zerwas

State Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, has withdrawn from the race for speaker of the Texas House, he confirmed to The Texas Tribune on Sunday evening.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to engage with the members of the House. The honest conversations are critical to the relationships I have, and I am honored to work with such principled leaders,” he said in a statement to the Tribune. “While I believe that I could lead the House through a successful 2019 session, it has come time for me to end my bid for Speaker and wholly focus on writing the budget for the 2020-2021 biennium.”

His departure comes amid an effort among roughly 40 GOP House members to draft state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, into the race. Bonnen did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Texas Tribune.

On Sunday night, that group of 40 members was scheduled to gather in Austin to discuss recruiting him for the job. Bonnen previously had told The Texas Tribune in May that he was not interested in running for the top slot in the lower chamber. The Tribune was told Sunday night that Bonnen was not at the meeting.

There are still a lot of Speaker wannabes. Zerwas was the first among them, declaring his intent to run right after Joe Straus announced his departure. My speculation when I read this was that the various Straus-like candidates have concluded their best move is to consolidate behind one candidate that they think can win, someone who Democrats and enough Republicans can support, so as to pre-empt the non-Straus contenders. For that to happen, to assuage egos and whatnot, the compromise/consensus candidate would have to be someone who is not currently a candidate. And thus it was:

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said Tuesday he is officially running for speaker of the Texas House — two days after an Oct. 28 meeting in Austin, where roughly 40 GOP House members gathered to discuss recruiting him for the job.

“Throughout my career in the House, I have always emphasized my respect for the institution as a whole as well as the unique position each member has to serve their district,” Bonnen said in a statement. “I look forward to the many conversations to come with members across the state. My desire, which I believe I share with the vast majority of my colleagues, is that this process come to a conclusion with a House ready to do the people’s business with strength, resolve, and unity in the 86th Legislative Session.”

Clearly, they were sufficiently persuasive. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is more or less how Straus emerged as a contender for Speaker in the first place – the dozen or so renegade Republicans who were publicly gunning for Tom Craddick emerged from a meeting with him as their exemplar, and after that it was all a matter of counting noses. We’ll see if it works.

Endorsement watch: Nine from Obama

I don’t know what the practical effect of this is, but I’m happy for the attention.

Former President Barack Obama has backed nine more Democratic candidates in Texas as part of his second round of midterm endorsements.

The nine candidates include challengers in two of Texas’ most competitive congressional races: Lizzie Fletcher, who is running against U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, and Gina Ortiz Jones, who is taking on U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. The Texans that Obama endorsed also include two who are likely to become the state’s first Latina congresswomen: Veronica Escobar, who is running to replace U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and Houston state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is vying for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston.

Rounding out the list of Obama’s latest endorsements in Texas are five state House candidates. One is Dallas state Rep. Eric Johnson, who is running for re-election, and the four others are all in races that Democrats are targeting as pick-up opportunities.

These nine were part of a much bigger group nationwide. All four of those State House endorsed challengers are also from Dallas: Ana-Marie Ramos (HD102), Terry Meza (HD105), Rhetta Bowers (HD113), and Julie Johnson (HD115). As the story notes, Obama had previously endorsed two Congressional candidates, Colin Allred and Adrienne Bell. I’m sure this will help everyone’s fundraising, though by how much is a question I can’t answer, and it’s certainly a lovely feather in one’s cap – I’d be over the moon as a candidate to get this kind of recognition. But at the end of the day, it’s about where and by how much the needle gets moved. These are all top-tier races, and the candidates deserve the support. What I’d really like to see is more attention to and support of the candidates in the second- and third-tier races, both as a means of trying to maximize the effect of the beneficial environment, and to recognize the great work that so many people have been doing without that kind of support. We’re going to need more of these candidate in 2020 and beyond, so let’s make sure no one walks away from this year feeling like it wasn’t worth the effort.

Four makes seven

Rep. Four Price files for Speaker, making him the sixth Republican and seventh member to do so.

Rep. Four Price

State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, filed Thursday for speaker of the Texas House, making him the sixth Republican to enter an already crowded race to replace the retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Having successfully worked for the last four sessions with my colleagues from across our state to pass major legislation and focus on issues of importance to all Texans, I am eager to seek this leadership position in the Texas House of Representatives,” he said in a statement. “Looking towards the future, I truly believe the Texas House will play a leading role in making the decisions that keep Texas on the path to prosperity.”

Price enters a speaker’s race that already includes Republicans Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford, John Zerwas of Richmond, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches and Drew Darby of San Angelo, as well as Democrat Eric Johnson of Dallas.

As with the other Republicans, I have no official opinion on Rep. Price, though I will note that he was endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC when he first ran for office. Honestly, at this point I’d rather see another villain type declare for Speaker, as that would help divide the bad-guy vote some more. The goal here is for the next Speaker to need Democratic help to get there, so the more division on that side, the better.

And then there were six

Five Republicans for Speaker, six in total.

Rep. Drew Darby

State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, filed on Friday to run for speaker of the Texas House.

“After prayerful consideration, discussions with my family, and at the urging of my House colleagues, today I filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to start a speaker campaign for the 86th Legislative Session,” Darby said in an emailed statement. “In the coming weeks, I plan to visit with every House member to discuss the priorities of their district and how the Texas House of Representatives can work together to put forward good policies to keep Texas the number one state to live, work and raise a family.” 
 


Darby, who’s been in the House since 2007, joins four other Republicans in vying for the top slot in the lower chamber: state Reps. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches and John Zerwas of Richmond. Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson has also declared he is running.

[…]

When the Texas House convenes for its legislative session in January, picking the next House speaker will be one of its first acts. Ahead of the vote from the full chamber, House Republicans last year agreed to hold a non-binding vote to pick a speaker candidate within the GOP caucus. And ahead of this year’s primaries, the Republican Party of Texas urged candidates and incumbents running for House seats to sign a form pledging to back whoever the caucus picks as their speaker candidate. Parker and King have signed the form, while Darby, Clardy and Zerwas have not.

See here for some background. What I said about Rep. Clardy’s candidacy holds true for Rep. Darby’s. Not sure how some of these guys will distinguish themselves from their rivals, but that’s their problem.

One more for Speaker

And then there were five.

Rep. Travis Clardy

State Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, filed Monday morning to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the fourth Republican to throw his hat in the ring in the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“We’re coming out of the summer and I think it’s time we get serious about the political process,” Clardy told The Texas Tribune. “I think it’s more important than ever that we make a decision as a House to pick our leadership, and be prepared to start the 86th Legislature with a strong, positive step and a vision for the future.”

[…]

He enters a speaker’s race that already includes Democrat Eric Johnson of Dallas and three Republicans: Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond.

Ahead of the next regular session, House Republicans agreed to select a speaker in their caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor. Prior to the March 6 primaries, House Republicans pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. While Parker and King have signed the form, Zerwas and Clardy have not. Clardy told the Tribune Monday, however, that he does intend to vote with his party next session on who should succeed Straus.

“I’m a lifelong Republican and I was at the convention, but that pledge was originally prepared before we did the caucus vote. It’s kind of redundant,” Clardy told the Tribune. “I already voted with the caucus to support a Republican nominee out of our caucus to be the next speaker. It’s kind of backwards to pledge to do something I’ve already done.”

See here and here for some background. I don’t have an opinion on Rep. Clardy, who told his hometown newspaper shortly after Straus announced his retirement that he’d be interested in the Speaker gig. As I said in that first link above, the question is whether Republicans can coalesce around a single candidate so that they can elect him (all the candidates so far are male) without needing any dirty Democratic support, or if their divisions are too deep and whoever comes crawling to the Dems first wins the prize. The more Dems there are, the fewer Republicans there are, the less room the Republicans have for dissent, the more likely that latter scenario. So basically, as with most of my other entries the past few months, the message is to get out and vote, and make sure everyone you know votes. It’s not just about Congress, after all.

The status of Confederate monument removal

We still have a long way to go.

Texas has removed the most Confederate symbols and statues in the country since 2015, according to a new Southern Poverty Law Center study. But the trend does not extend to the state Capitol, where lawmakers have been reluctant to take down monuments and plaques.

Texas cities removed 31 symbols, which include statues and renaming of schools and streets, according to the report. Austin led the way, with the removal of 10 symbols, the majority of them on the UT campus. Houston renamed seven schools and one street.

Cities in Texas and across the country have removed hundreds of symbols following the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston in 2015, which prompted lawmakers in South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse.

“As a consequence of the national reflection that began in Charleston, the myths and revisionist history surrounding the Confederacy may be losing their grip in the South,” the SPLC argues in its report. “Yet, for the most part, the symbols remain.”

Houston ISD spent $1.2 million to change the names of eight schools that once honored figures of the Confederacy. Reagan High became Heights High; Davis High was changed to Northside High; Lee High took the name of longtime educator Margaret Long Wisdom; Johnston Middle was changed to Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School; Jackson Middle became the Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence; Dowling Middle was renamed after Audrey Lawson; and Lanier Middle changed its first name to honor former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier instead of Confederate poet Sidney Lanier.

Dowling Street, named after Houston businessman Dick Dowling who served as a lieutenant in the Confederacy, was renamed Emancipation Avenue by the City of Houston in January 2017.

Two controversial monuments remain in city parks.

The Spirit of the Confederacy statue has stood in Downtown’s Sam Houston Park for 110 years. A monument commemorating Dick Dowling was erected in Market Square Park in 1905 before moving to its current location in Herman Park.

You can read the SPLC report here. There’s a sidebar story in there about the history and origin of Stone Mountain in Georgia, which, yeah. Go read that if you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about. I don’t know if they counted this sort of thing, but in addition to the schools that got renamed, HISD also recently got rid of a Confederate-themed school mascot. So yes, progress.

One place where a lot more progress could and should be made in short order is in the state Capitol. State Rep. Eric Johnson, who has been leading the charge to get a particular historically false plaque removed, just submitted a brief to the AG’s office regarding the authority of the State Preservation Board, which includes Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, to remove that “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque. He subsequently got support from outgoing Speaker Joe Straus.

The Republican speaker of the Texas House says a Confederate plaque hanging in the state Capitol can — and should — be removed immediately.

In a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton, Speaker Joe Straus called the plaque offensive and misleading. And he agreed with Rep. Eric Johnson, the Dallas Democrat pushing for its removal, that the Texas Preservation Board has the power to remove the plaque immediately.

“Every year, thousands of visitors to the Capitol are exposed to this inaccurate plaque,” the San Antonio Republican’s staff wrote on the Speaker’s behalf. “Maintaining it in its present location is a disservice to them and to history. The plaque should either be removed or relocated to a place where appropriate historical context can be provided.”

[…]

Johnson said he was disappointed he hasn’t heard from Abbott in the seven months since the two men sat down to discuss the plaque. He wants the governor to call a meeting of the board and vote on his request to remove this plaque. If the agency fails to act quickly on his request, he wrote, a court of law could compel it to do so.

“The Curator similarly cannot let a request languish,” Johnson wrote. “Should the Curator fail to act on a change request within a reasonable period of time, mandamus can issue to require the Curator to act.”

One may be disappointed in Abbott, but one shouldn’t be surprised. Straus has previously backed removing the monument, so if Abbott and Patrick would get off their butts and take action, we could get this done tomorrow. What are you waiting for, guys?

Rep. Eric Johnson declares for Speaker

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Rep. Eric Johnson

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed Wednesday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the first Democrat to enter the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune, Johnson pointed out that, if elected, he would be the first speaker under the age of 45 since former House Speaker Price Daniel Jr. in 1973 and the first person of color to ever serve as speaker of the Texas House.

Johnson enters a speaker’s race that already includes three Republicans: Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond.

“I’m in it, and I’m in it to win it,” Johnson told the Tribune.

[…]

“I am deeply troubled by the far rightward shift in our state government and the excessive partisanship and the poor legislation this shift has spawned,” Johnson said in a separate statement. “Texas has become a one-party state, and this has been to Texas’s detriment.”

As a Democrat, Johnson would need bipartisan support to be elected speaker in the Republican-dominated House. Ahead of the next regular session, House Republicans agreed to select a speaker in their caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor — a move that could completely cut out Democrats from picking the chamber’s next leader. Prior to the March 6 primaries, House Republicans pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. While Parker and King have signed the form, Zerwas has not.

Let’s state up front that Republican members are not going to vote for a Democrat for Speaker, at least not as long as they have a majority in the House. Let’s also state that it is…unlikely…that the Republicans will lose the majority in the Texas House. So, barring something very unexpected, Rep. Eric Johnson will not be the next Speaer of the House.

What could happen is that Republicans fail to coalesce behind a single one of their Speaker candidates, so that none of them can get a majority to become Speaker. In that case, Eric Johnson and his Democratic supporters can make a deal with one of them to push him over the top in return for some concessions. This is a more likely scenario with Democrats numbering in the mid-to-upper sixties (or higher, of course), but it could still happen with something more like the current caucus size. This is not unlike how Joe Straus became Speaker himself in 2009; I trust you will find the irony of that if it happens to be as delicious as I will. Having Johnson file as Speaker should mean that the Dems will be unified behind him, rather than making their own individual deals a la Tom Craddick in 2003.

And that’s the key. Being able to elect a Democratic Speaker would be awesome, of course, but the way the House map is drawn they’d need not just to win the statewide vote, they’d need to win it with some room to spare. That just isn’t going to happen. But being in a position to get a seat at the table, that’s a fine consolation prize. The more seats we do win in November, the closer we can get to that.

Rep. Johnson files motion to dismiss Dallas County ballot lawsuit

I wish him luck.

Rep. Eric Johnson

State Rep. Eric Johnson on Monday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that would kick him and other Democrats off the November general election ballot.

The suit, brought by the Dallas County Republican Party, contends that the candidates are ineligible to be on the ballot because Carol Donovan, the chairperson of the Dallas County Democratic Party, didn’t physically “sign” or certify the petitions that were ultimately accepted by the Texas secretary of state’s office.

Johnson, an intervenor in the case against Donovan and the Dallas County Democratic Party, says the Texas law does not require Donovan to sign the petitions. In his suit, he contends the Texas Citizens Participation Act assures his place on the ballot, which is an exercise of free speech, protection against “meritless” or “retaliatory” lawsuits.

“This lawsuit is part of a disturbing pattern of the GOP finding problems where they do not exist, which have the effect, if not the intent, of keeping minority voters from electing the candidates of their choice,” said Johnson, D-Dallas. “I pray that the court will conclude the GOP’s completely baseless lawsuit should be dismissed, so I can turn my full attention back to serving my constituents.”

[…]

Before the case can be heard, a judge will consider whether state District Judge Eric Moye should preside over it. That hearing is set for March 26.

See here and here for the background, and here for a link to Rep. Johnson’s motion. The law the motion relies on is here, and I’ll leave it to the attorneys to assess the merits of the argument. I’ve read the motion and it’s fairly technical, but as far as I can tell it’s basically the same logic I heard people express when the suit was first filed. We’ll (eventually) see what the courts make of it.

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

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

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

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

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

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

Women challenging men:

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

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

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

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

Men challenging women:

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

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

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

Straus backs removing Capitol Confederate monument

Kudos.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus requested on Tuesday that a contentious Confederate plaque be removed from the Capitol.

The plaque, erected in 1959, asserts that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

“This is not accurate, and Texans are not well-served by incorrect information about our history,” Straus said in a letter to the State Preservation Board, which oversees the Capitol grounds.

Straus added in his letter that “confederate monuments and plaques are understandably important to many Texans” but stressed the importance of such landmarks being “accurate and appropriate.”

“The Children of the Confederacy Creed plaque does not meet this standard,” Straus wrote.

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, who has called for the removal of the plaque, told The Texas Tribune he was “pleased” that Straus agrees it should come down.

“I am confident that it will come down soon,” Johnson said.

See here for the background. As you know, I am objectively anti-Confederate monuments in general, though I will stipulate there is room for debate. But a Confederate monument that contains a blatant and obvious lie about what the Confederacy and the Civil War were about? In the state Capitol? I’ll be glad to drive to Austin with a hammer and pry bar and do the removal myself. Good on Rep. Johnson for bringing this up, and on Rep. Straus for doing the right thing.

Confederate monuments in the Capitol

Get rid of them, too.

A state lawmaker wants all Confederate symbols removed from the Texas Capitol grounds, including a plaque that is 40 steps away from his office that rejects the idea that the South seceded from the Union over slavery.

Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, sent a letter to the State Preservation Board Wednesday asking that it immediately remove the plaque, which was mounted in 1959. It reads, in part, “We … pledge ourselves … to study and teach the truth of history (one of the most important of which is, that the war between the state was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery).”

“The plaque is not historically accurate in the slightest,” Johnson said in his letter. He called on the board, which maintains the Capitol’s artifacts, to immediately remove the plaque and asked for meeting with House Speaker Joe Straus, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to discuss the removal of all Confederate symbols.

“Given the recent tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, I cannot think of a better time than the present to discuss the removal of all Confederate iconography from the Texas Capitol Complex,” Johnson said.

You can see the full letter Rep. Johnson sent to the State Preservation Board here. I doubt this will go anywhere, and he certainly won’t get any support from Greg Abbott, but I stand with Rep. Johnson.

Meantime, over the weekend there was a protest at Sam Houston Park about the “spirit of the Confederacy” statue there. Mayor Turner has requested a study of artwork at city parks after people asked for that statue to be removed at last week’s Council meeting. My expectations for action are a lot higher than they are at the Capitol. It would be nice to know what the timeline on this will be.

No special session for redistricting

Buried in my Wednesday post about the SCOTUS ruling that declared North Carolina’s Congressional map to be an illegal gerrymander was a note that the court in the Texas redistricting case asked the state to consider a special session to redraw Texas’ map, taking that ruling into account. The DMN had a story about that:

In striking down North Carolina’s congressional district map, the Supreme Court sent Texas a firm warning Monday about how the state’s case may fare if it reaches that stage.

Hours after the ruling, the federal district court in San Antonio currently overseeing the Texas case issued an order to the relevant parties asking them to submit briefs detailing how the North Carolina ruling will affect their claims, with a deadline of June 6.

Judge Xavier Rodriguez, on behalf of the panel, also directed Texas to consider whether it would like to “voluntarily undertake redistricting in a special session” of the legislature in light of the North Carolina ruling, giving the state until Friday to decide.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case, said he interpreted the district court’s new order as a message to the state.

“The way I read it is that the court is warning the state of Texas to fix these intentionally discriminatory maps or it will in a way the state might not like,” said Anchia, D-Dallas.

[…]

Michael Li, a redistricting expert and senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said the North Carolina ruling will be an “important decision” for the other districting efforts winding through the legal system, including those in Texas.

“It makes clear that this isn’t about any sort of talismanic test or anything like that, but that you actually have to delve into the facts and circumstances about how maps are drawn,” Li said. “So even a district that looks pretty and has nice lines, and everything like that, can still be problematic. And it’s really up to the trial court to delve into that.”

Democrats in Texas celebrated the ruling as a promising indication of how their arguments will fare moving forward.

“I am happy that North Carolina voters secured another victory against the national Republican crusade to undermine the voting power of African Americans and Hispanics in local, state, and federal elections,” said Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who has been on the front lines of another legal case against Texas’ voter ID law.

The request from the district court in San Antonio for new filings in the wake of the North Carolina decision confirmed the potential impact of the ruling. Matt Angle, the director of the Lone Star Project, a liberal advocacy group, said the court “is all but screaming in the ears of Texas Republican leaders to pull back from their culture of racial discrimination” by redrawing the map.

“Don’t count on Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick or other Texas Republican leaders to listen or care,” Angle said in a written statement. “Texas Republicans have adopted discrimination and vote suppression as essential tools to hold power.”

Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, sent two letters earlier this year to Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, asking her to hold a hearing on the matter as chairwoman of the House Redistricting Committee. But the committee has not met at all this session.

The court had given the state till today to decide whether or not to take its own shot at drawing a legal map first. Yesterday, they gave their answer.

In response to a question from the court, the State of Texas said in a filing today that it has no plans to hold a special session to redraw state house and congressional maps.

The state said that its position remained that the state house and congressional adopted in 2013 to replace earlier maps were free of discriminatory purpose, did not use race as a predominant factor, or violate the Voting Rights Act – saying that it acted in good faith when it adopted court-drawn interim plans on a permanent basis.

The state also said that “any further attempt to reconfigure the State’s electoral districts will only result in new legal challenges.”

All righty then. That filing may disappoint the Texas Republican Congressional delegation, however.

Several congressional Republicans told the Tribune they want Abbott to call a special session to redraw the Congressional lines. They believe such a maneuver would put their allies in the state legislature in the driver’s seat, circumventing Republicans’ worst fear: that a panel of federal judges will draw a less favorable map of its own.

“I can’t speak for my whole delegation but I’ve already reached out to some of my friends back in the legislature…I said, ‘Give me a holler,'” said U.S. Rep. Randy Weber R-Friendswood, on his hopes for a special session.

“My thought is, if the legislature doesn’t [redraw the map], then the court is going to drop the map, which I think is way outside their constitutional purview,” he added.

[…]

To be sure, the Congressional delegation would like to keep the current lines. But its calls for a special session are rooted in fears that the map will not hold up in court.

And even those fears are not uniform within the delegation itself.

“One attorney will tell you one thing, another attorney will tell you something different,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan. “There’s more confusion than consensus.”

I’m pretty sure there will be a new map, though it may be that the changes are fairly minimal, and it’s also possible that the state can force a delay until 2020. I don’t know that I’d bet my own money on those outcomes, however. Note that Greg Abbott may well call a special session for other reasons, just not for this because the state thinks it’s totally going to win. I have a feeling this subject will come up again during the scheduled hearing on July 10. Stay tuned.

A bipartisan bill to address actual vote fraud

Miracles do happen.

Here’s something folks rarely see in Austin, or other statehouses, in these politically prickly times: a bipartisan effort to crack down on voter fraud.

In the waning days of the 85th Texas Legislative Session, a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers — backed by party leaders — are pushing to tighten oversight of absentee ballots cast at nursing homes, which experts have long called vulnerable to abuse.

This effort has another twist: It could also bolster ballot access among the elderly.

“When was the last time you heard about a voter fraud bill that actually made it easier to vote?” said Rep. Tom Oliverson of Cypress, one of the Republicans championing the proposal.

A bill he filed died this week after failing to reach the House floor. But a unanimous Senate committee vote Thursday gave some life to identical legislation, Senate Bill 2149, filed by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

It would create a process for collecting absentee ballots at nursing homes — essentially turning them into temporary polling places during early voting — to ensure facility staffers or others aren’t manipulating residents’ votes. That’s been a well-documented threat surrounding such vulnerable voters.

“Many of our elderly voters in Texas are being disenfranchised,” Eric Opiela, a lawyer for the Texas Republican Party, told lawmakers at Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Committee on State Affairs.

[…]

State law allows Texans with disabilities, those who are at least 65 years old, or those who plan to be out of the county during voting to request a mail-in ballot. That typically includes voters at residential care facilities. Huffman’s bill would change the process for homes that request five or more absentee ballots. During early voting, counties would send election judges to deliver the ballots and oversee voting at those homes, providing assistance if need be. And political parties could send registered poll watchers, just as they do at regular polling places.

Qualified voters who might have forgotten to request an absentee ballot could fill out such paperwork on site and cast a vote during the election judges’ visit.

“This is just going to help seniors vote. It’s going to allow them to participate in greater numbers,” said Rep. Eric Johnson, a Dallas Democrat who authored the House legislation with Oliverson, and has closely followed the Dallas fraud investigation.

Glen Maxey, legislative director for the Texas Democratic Party, on Thursday called the bill “the biggest expansion of voting rights in Texas since we moved to early voting.”

Would it be churlish of me to say that Democrats have argued in vain for years that voter ID laws have no effect on mail ballot fraud, and that if the Republicans had been serious about combating the kind of vote fraud that actually happens they wouldn’t have gotten their asses handed to them in the voter ID lawsuit? Because if it would be churlish of me to say that, well, too bad, I’ve already said it. As far as this bill goes, if Glen Maxey says it’s a good bill, it’s a good bill. Let’s hope it makes it to the finish line.

LGBT anti-discrimination bills voted out of House committee

One bit of good news this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We now have data about police shootings of civilians

The Chron reviews the first year’s worth of data.

Rep. Eric Johnson

Rep. Eric Johnson

Texas police reported shooting 159 people in the first year that the state tracked such cases under a groundbreaking new law. Officers in Houston shot 31 of them – compared to eight in San Antonio and Dallas and five apiece in Fort Worth and Austin.

Houston’s share of officer-involved shootings has been disproportionate – even when considering its size as the state’s largest city – compared to other Texas police departments.

The last year of incidents here involved dozens of tragic scenarios, from shootouts with heavily armed criminals to shootings of unarmed civilians. An unarmed man was shot after he was pushed into an off-duty HPD officer working security at a bar. A man with a gun who his wife later said had gone out to “look for his horse” was shot and killed by two Houston officers. A mentally ill veteran who opened fire on a neighborhood on Memorial Day weekend and shot seven was killed by a Houston SWAT sniper.

Each incident should be examined separately and no conclusions should be drawn from numbers alone, said former Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, whose former agency was involved in most Houston cases. Police agencies differ in patrol strategies, policies and frequency of violent arrests, and the data should prompt further study of the actions of officers and suspects alike, he said.

“All of us in law enforcement and the media must get this right for the public,” he said. “A department’s entire reputation and relationship with its community may rest on this single issue.”

While many shootings involved armed clashes between civilians and police, some of the most troubling episodes revealed in the new Texas records involved officers shooting juveniles or killing unarmed adults suffering a mental health crisis. Statewide, 20 percent of those shot in the last year were unarmed.

[…]

In 2015, Rep. Eric Johnson, an African-American Democrat from Dallas, was so troubled by the debate over disproportionate use of force against minorities that he championed a reform to gather more information about all officer-involved shootings. Johnson sought to pass a law because of his own experiences “as an African-American male who notices that we have an interesting – statistically speaking – relationship with law enforcement.”

He initially sought to collect more data but later agreed to omit identifying information about officers and to require reports when police are shot by civilians.

“If you’re going to collect data on shootings, then be fair,” said Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. “Did the officer believe the person had a gun? Was the officer in a struggle? We didn’t want this to turn into a ‘gotcha’ aimed directly at officers.”

Officers reported killing 71 people and injuring 88 in the first year. And that data already shows that something Johnson suspected is true: 28 percent of those shot were African-American, though African- Americans make up only about 12 percent of Texas’ population. Of the rest, 28 percent were Hispanic and 43 were Anglo, according to reports filed by police.

During the same period, 21 law enforcement officers were reported shot by civilians, and the fatal shootings of two other officers went unreported to the state. Including those two, at least seven were killed – five died in Dallas after an African-American sniper opened fire just after a peaceful Black Lives Matter march in Johnson’s hometown. The shooter, an Afghanistan war veteran, was killed too.

Racial disparities also show up in the state’s in-custody death reports. According to research by Amanda Woog at the University of Texas, 27 percent of the 1,118 people who died in police custody in Texas from 2005-2015 were African-American.

“While this data cannot tell us why these numbers have increased so drastically, it does alert us to the problem of increasing fatalities in police encounters in Texas,” Woog said. “Without such data, the national conversation around people dying in police custody – in particular black people – has been largely anecdotal. This data helps inform the conversation, revealing an alarming trend.”

Thanks in part to Rep. Johnson’s bill and to investigative efforts like those by Amanda Woog and the Texas Tribune, we now know a lot more about civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement than we did before. (We should have known this stuff years ago, but we didn’t. Better late than never.) With this knowledge, one hopes we can gain the understanding to reduce those numbers. Some of this was unavoidable, but some of it was not, and it’s on us to learn which was which so that we can learn what we should be doing and what we should not be. Like with body cameras and recorded interrogations, this is for everyone’s good.

More pre-K bills filed

The Observer has the best reporting on the latest pre-k bills that have been filed in the Lege.

pre-k

There’s widespread support around the Capitol for more state spending on pre-kindergarten programs, and much less agreement about how to do it.

State Reps. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) and Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) have proposed a $300-million-a-year plan to fund full-day pre-K for some children in districts that agree to meet new quality standards. Meanwhile, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) has introduced a more ambitious plan: universal, full-day pre-K for all 4-year-olds in the state.

On the campaign trail last year, Gov. Greg Abbott also proposed more pre-K spending, but more cautiously. Rather than a blanket pre-K expansion, Abbott suggested rewarding districts with $1,500 per student if they meet new standards for program quality.

That’s the plan outlined in House Bill 4, filed [Thursday] by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston). The bill creates a framework for defining the “high quality prekindergarten programs” eligible for extra state funding, but remains vague on how much each school district would get and how their programs would be evaluated. Under HB 4, those decisions would all be left up to the education commissioner.

[…]

David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas and a former superintendent of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, says HB 4 includes some important elements—encouraging districts to use the state pre-K standards, and rewarding districts for using qualified teachers—but the bill is a missed opportunity if it doesn’t fund full-day learning.

Our research shows students achieve the greatest gains when enrolled in high-quality, full-day pre-K,” Anthony says, with an emphasis on “full-day.” “We have seen first-hand in the research and talking with teachers that they can accomplish so much more in a full-day program than with the half-day.”

See here for more on Raise Your Hand Texas’s research, and here for more on the Johnson/Farney bill. The Zaffirini bill is basically what Wendy Davis proposed, so you can guess what its likely outcome will be. The main problem with Abbott’s approach of course is that the $100 million appropriated in Rep. Huberty’s bill is still less than what was cut in 2011. The Chron story doesn’t mention any of this, though it does give a nice report on that public announcement event Abbott held, since that’s what really matters.

There are more reasons to prefer the full-day pre-k options that Johnson/Farney and Zaffirini are proposing:

“Right now it looks like the governor’s proposal [as written in HB 4] is basically recreating a similar grant program,” [Center for Public Policy Priorities analyst Chandra Villanueva] says. “This program just isn’t going far enough and meeting the needs that we really have.”

Villanueva, like many other early education advocates, says the Legislature should fund any pre-K expansion through the same funding formulas it uses to pay for K-12 education. Grant programs like the one cut in 2011, or the one proposed under HB 4, are much more susceptible to cuts from one session to the next.

Funding pre-K through the formulas, she says, would also help ensure students get more equal funding. HB 4, on the other hand, could reward wealthy districts that already have the money to meet new requirements for, say, class size or teacher qualifications.

“The governor’s bill that’s outside the formulas, it’s really increasing inequity in the system,” Villanueva says. “I think we need a systemic approach to dealing with pre-K, and increase the equity in the system.”

You know what that sounds like to me? A future school finance lawsuit. Good to know some things never change, isn’t it?

Abbott-style pre-k bill filed

From the inbox:

pre-k

State Representatives Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) and Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) today filed a bill to provide incentive payments to school districts to provide full-day, quality pre-kindergarten. To receive the incentives, districts would be required to adopt best practices identified through research as delivering the best return on educational investment. Texas’ current system funds only a half-day of pre-k and does not ask school districts to meet any substantial quality standards. The Johnson-Farney bill builds on a framework proposed by Governor Abbott last year.

“The research is in, and it shows that full-day pre-k is one of the best investments we can make in education. It can cut the achievement gap for children in poverty in half and will reduce future spending on remedial education, special education and the criminal justice system. If we’re serious about improving public education, we’ve got to get serious about full-day pre-k,” said Rep. Johnson.

The bill contains several transparency and accountability measures designed to ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely. Participating districts will report much more information on student achievement, teacher performance, program design and parental involvement to the state under the new plan. The plan expressly prohibits any new standardized, high-stakes tests, but uses existing assessments to measure program effectiveness when students enter kindergarten and the 3rd grade.

The proposal has the general support of a wide array of stakeholders, including business associations, school districts, children’s advocacy groups, private schools and municipal leaders, including the Dallas Regional Chamber, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas Independent School District, the Commit Partnership, the Dallas Early Education Alliance, the ChildCareGroup (Dallas), Texas Association of Business, Children at Risk, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

The bill in question is HB 1100. The full press release, which contains a list of supporters, is here. Reps. Johnson and Farney first announced their intent to file such a bill last week – here’s the fact sheet and framework that came with the earlier announcement. As you know, I am skeptical of Abbott’s approach, which would still leave funding for pre-k well below 2011 levels, when it was decimated along with most everything else in the hysteria budget of that cycle. This is better than nothing, and given a choice between it and nothing, I’ll take this. Best case scenario, it works well enough to be a springboard for something more, assuming we have any funds left over after Dan Patrick finishes giving out tax cuts to the wealthy. That counts for progress these days. The Trib has more.

The farm team

Roll Call takes a look at the Texas Democrats of the future.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Democrats rarely fielded competitive Senate candidates over the past two decades — the party’s three best performers in that time span received 44 percent, 43 percent and 43 percent — but that may change by the next midterm cycle. State and national Democrats are gearing up for a competitive Senate bid as early as 2018, when Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is up.

The first potential candidate names out of the mouths of most operatives are the Castro twins, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and freshman Rep. Joaquin Castro — though there are mixed opinions about which one is more likely to jump. Wendy Davis’ name comes up as well, should she comes up short in this year’s gubernatorial race, and the buzz in some Democratic circles is that Davis’ running mate, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, has as promising a political future as Davis.

Beyond those four, there is a second tier of candidates who could possibly run statewide but don’t quite yet have the same star power. It includes freshman Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who ousted eight-term Rep. Silvestre Reyes in 2012. He is young and attractive, but his geographic base is weak — El Paso is remote and actually closer to the Pacific Ocean than it is to the Louisiana border.

Democrats also named state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Chris Turner as possible statewide contenders and pointed to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, albeit with caution. Parker is openly gay, and some say that while Texas is evolving on a number of issues, gay rights is not likely to be one of them in the immediate future.

We’ve discussed the 2018 election before. Based on her comments so far, I don’t see Mayor Parker as a potential candidate for the US Senate. I see her as a candidate for Governor or Comptroller, assuming those offices are not occupied by Democrats.

Among the future contenders for [Rep. Gene] Green’s seat, Democrats identified state Reps. Armando Walle, Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez, plus Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

There is perpetual scuttlebutt in the state that [Rep. Lloyd] Doggett is vulnerable to a Hispanic primary challenge. Other Democratic strategists discount that line of thinking, citing Doggett’s war chest and ability to weather whatever lines he’s drawn into.

Whenever he leaves office, Democrats named Martinez Fischer and state Rep. Mike Villarreal as likely contenders. Martinez Fischer could also run in Joaquin Castro’s 20th District if he seeks higher office.

As for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s Houston-based 18th District, state operatives pointed to state Reps. Sylvester Turner and Garnet F. Coleman, who could also run for Rep. Al Green’s seat.

Working backwards, Rep. Sylvester Turner is running for Mayor in 2015. That would not preclude a future run for Congress, of course, but I doubt it’s on his mind right now. I love Rep. Garnet Coleman, but I’ve never really gotten the impression that he has his eye on Washington, DC. Among other things, he has school-age kids at home, and I’m not sure how much the idea of commuting to DC appeals to him. The same is true for Sen. Rodney Ellis, whose district has a lot of overlap with Rep. Al Green’s CD09. Ellis has by far the biggest campaign warchest among them, which is one reason why I had once suggested he run statewide this year. Beyond them, there’s a long list of current and former elected officials – Ronald Green, Brad Bradford, Jolanda Jones, Wanda Adams, Carroll Robinson, etc etc etc – that would surely express interest in either CD09 or CD18 if it became open. About the only thing that might alter this dynamic is if County Commissioner El Franco Lee decided to retire; the line for that office is longer than I-10.

As for Rep. Gene Green, I’d add Rep. Carol Alvarado and James Rodriguez to the list of people who’d at least consider a run to replace him. I’m less sure about Sheriff Garcia. I think everyone expects him to run for something else someday – he’s starting to get the John Sharp Obligatory Mention treatment – but I have no idea if he has any interest in Congress. And as for Rep. Doggett, all I’ll say is that he’s shown himself to be pretty hard to beat in a primary.

Texas’ 23rd, which includes much of the state’s border with Texas, is the only competitive district in the state and turns over regularly. If Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego lost re-election and Democrats were on the hunt for a new recruit, one could be state Rep. Mary González.

Should 11-term Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson retire, Democrats said attorney Taj Clayton, along with state Reps. Yvonne Davis and Eric Johnson would be likely contenders for her Dallas-based 30th District.

State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez is also a rising star. But his local seat in the Brownsville-based 34th District is unlikely to open up any time soon — Rep. Filemon Vela, from a well-known family in South Texas, was elected in 2012.

The great hope for Democrats is that continued Texas redistricting litigation will provide an additional majority Hispanic district based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. State Rep. Rafael Anchia is the obvious choice for that hypothetical seat, along with Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Sergio L. De Leon.

And then there are a handful of Texas Democrats who stir up chatter but have no obvious place to run for federal office. Democrats put former state Rep. Mark Strama and Jane Hamilton, the current chief of staff to Rep. Marc Veasey, in this category.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Lily Adams, granddaughter of Ann Richards, is a respected political operative in Washington, D.C., and recently earned attention as a possible candidate talent.

I’m rooting for Rep. Gallego to win re-election this fall, but no question I’d love to see Rep. González run for higher office at some point. Taj Clayton ran against Rep. Johnson in 2012, getting support from the Campaign for Primary Accountability (which appears to be in a resting state now), along with Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who also appears in this story as someone to watch. Rep. Anchia is someone I’ve been rooting for and would love to see get a promotion. Mark Strama is off doing Google Fiber in Austin. I have no idea if he’d want to get back in the game – like several other folks I’ve mentioned, he has young kids – but he’s been mentioned as a possible candidate for Mayor in Austin before; if he does re-enter politics, and if he has an eye on something bigger down the line, that would be a good way to go for it. Lily Adams is 27 years old and has never run for any office before, but she’s got an excellent pedigree and has apparently impressed some folks. In baseball terms, she’s tearing up it in short season A ball, but needs to show what she can do on a bigger stage before anyone gets carried away.

Anyway. Stuff like this is necessarily speculative, and that speculation about 2018 is necessarily dependent on what happens this year. If Democrats manage to beat expectations and score some wins, statewide hopefuls may find themselves waiting longer than they might have thought. If Democrats have a crappy year, by which one in which no measurable progress in getting out the vote and narrowing the gap is made, some of these folks may decide they have better things to do in 2018. As for the Congressional understudies, unless they want to go the Beto O’Rourke route and mount a primary challenge to someone, who knows how long they may have to wait. It’s entirely possible all this talk will look silly four years from now. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Committee time

Now the real work gets started.

Joe Straus

House Speaker Joe Straus announced committee assignments for the Legislature’s lower chamber on Thursday, ending speculation over key chairmanships and giving lawmakers the go-ahead to start considering bills.

Here’s his list.

Of the standing committees, 32 are chaired by men, six by women. That’s one more female chair than the 2011 session.

Among the committee chairs, 26 are white, five are black and seven are Hispanic, one more than last session.
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock takes over the Public Education Committee as battle lines are already being drawn over accountability, student testing and school choice reforms. He is well-regarded in public education circles and has drawn support from advocacy groups that oppose private school vouchers — an indication that any legislation enacting such a policy, a priority for his counterpart in the Senate, Dan Patrick, might encounter a hurdle when it comes to the lower chamber.

As noted, the list of committees and members is here. Burka notes where committee chairs were changed, in most cases because the previous Chair is no longer in the House. The Public Ed committee looks reasonably promising – Chair Aycock, and members Dan Huberty and Bennett Ratliff are all ParentPAC endorsees; member Marsha Farney was the non-crazy Republican to emerge from the GOP primary for SBOE10 in 2010. If a voucher bill makes it out of the Senate this is the kind of committee one might hope would bottle it up. If there’s a committee to watch for possible shenanigans, it’s the Corrections committee, which has Debbie Riddle and Steve Toth among its seven members. There is a Redistricting committee, which may or may not have much to do but which will have a couple of bills relating to how prison inmates are counted for redistricting purposes to consider. The Elections committee will have a bill to repeal voter ID and several others to make voting easier on its list of things to ponder. Rep. Eric Johnson, author of the latter and one of the former, is on the Elections committee. We’ll see if he can get any action on those bills of his. Take a look at the committee list and see what you think about it. BOR has more.

House passes its budget

The Trib has a good writeup of how it went down on Sunday. Mot of the heavy lifting was done before then, in the bills that closed the books on the previous biennium and allocated Rainy Day funds for them and in Friday night’s session, when the articles that deal with public education and health and human services were debated. So far, Democrats have done what they’ve needed to do politically. They’ve offered amendments that show their contrasting priorities and try to mitigate the damage being done, nearly all of which have gone down on a straight party line vote and a few of which generated some whining from Republicans who knew they were being forced to take bad votes. They voted unanimously against HB1 (two Republicans joined them) and made numerous statements about how bad it is, several of which I’ve reproduced beneath the fold. That needs to continue, in a steady drumbeat, all the way through next November, and it needs to directly refute this:

“It lives within the available revenue that we have to work with,” [House Appropriations Chair Jim] Pitts said. “…This budget is the result of the worst recession that anyone in this room has ever experienced.”

No. It was the result of deliberate policy choices made by the Republicans, who for the most part still haven’t acknowledged, much less taken steps to fix, the structural deficit caused by the 2006 property tax cut. We will be in the same position two years from now regardless of how good the economy is because of that. We will also see hundreds of thousands of jobs lost due to the choices the Republicans have made. And there was a lot more revenue available that the Republicans refused to take, from another $6 billion in the Rainy Day Fund to many billions more in outdated and inefficient tax expenditures, plus whatever non-tax revenue the Senate manages to scrape up. Speaking of which, Rep. Harold Dutton gets credit for best line of the night when he said “Thank God for the Senate” as things wrapped up. That will put the lie to Pitts’ assertion about available revenue, and it will make everyone feel a little better, but it will still fall far short of what we need to do. The budget is a failure in every way. Here’s the LSG analysis of the budget again to remind you just what it will do. PDiddie, Martha, Bob Moser, and Abby Rapoport have more. Read on for the Democratic statements.

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It’s way past time to regulate payday lenders

From the Observer:

As an industry, when you’ve got Tom Craddick, consumer groups, the Midland County District Attorney and Bible-quoting Baptists arrayed against you, most likely you’re facing a serious come-to-Jesus moment. Today, a House committee heard hours of impassioned testimony in favor of legislation that would curb Texas’ Wild West payday and auto-title lending business. As Melissa del Bosque has documented, payday lenders in Texas are virtually unregulated and frequently lock consumers into a cycle of debt. Craddick’s bill, along with three other identical bills, would close a loopholethat allows payday lenders to register as consumer credit organizations (CSOs) and escape regulation.

It was rather incredible to watch former Speaker Tom Craddick, who doesn’t exactly have a reputation as an advocate for the working poor, take the payday lenders to the woodshed. “No longer do I think the Legislature can stand back and watch these businesses take advantage of people in need,” Craddick said today. The impact of rates that can amount to 500 percent APR is “overwhelming – actually it’s awful,” he said.

Under the proposed legislation, payday and auto-title lenders could no longer operate as consumer credit organizations, but instead would be subject to the same laws and regulations as other lenders. A cap of 135 percent – still far above the 36 percent limit imposed by many states – would be imposed on the short-term loans offered by payday lenders.

Craddick’s bill is HB410, and it has a bipartisan plethora of co-authors. Other bills on the subject are HB 656 (Farias), HB 661 (Rodriguez), HB 1323 (Johnson), HB 2594 (Truitt), and HB 2592 (Truitt).

Among the consumer advocates and faith leaders, consensus seemed to be that the best approach would be imposing rate caps, closing the CSO loophole and imposing existing law on the lenders. That’s Craddick’s approach. However, the payday lender industry is basically telling legislators that they will go out of business if that happens and desperate consumers will have nowhere to go for easy credit.

The Craddick approach would “dramatically change the business model as we know it in a detrimental way,” said Rob Norcross, a lobbyist for the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, an industry group.

Asked today if they could survive with ‘just’ 135 percent APR, Norcross said, “The answer is no. … Those rates aren’t sustainable.”

Cry me a river, dude. If your business isn’t sustainable at that APR level, you don’t have a viable business model and deserve to be made extinct. If that’s what happens, it’s a feature, not a bug.

Basically, payday lenders need to be treated like any other loan-making financial institution. As the group Texas Faith for Fair Lending notes, the problem is that’s not how they operate now.

payday and auto title lenders do not operate as lenders governed by the Texas Finance code as one might expect. Instead, they have found a loophole in a law called the Credit Services Organizations (CSO) Act that sets no limits on rates and fees they charge borrowers.

The CSO statute was enacted in 1997 and is designed to govern how credit repair services can help those repair bad credit. In this statute CSOs are given is the authority to “obtain an extension of consumer credit for a consumer.” The intent is clearly to enable CSOs to help Texans with bad credit build up a positive lending history in order to increase credit scores. Instead, over 98% of registered CSOs in this state are payday and auto title lenders that do anything but help people repair credit.

So, in practice, payday and auto title lenders are merely brokers, or arrangers of credit. They partner with banks or other large lenders who charge an interest rate of below the 10% APR constitutional limit, while the payday lender, registered as a CSO, charges an exorbitant fee. This diagram better illustrates the relationship –

The true lender, the financial institution, charges a small interest rate and makes a little money from the short loan. The CSO charges a high fee to arrange, collect and guarantee the loan. This is typically around $20 per $100 borrowed but there is no legal limit on these fees. The borrower never interacts with the actual lender.

They add nothing of value to the equation but reap huge profits by virtue of the loophole they squeeze through. That loophole needs to be closed. You can see videos of the TFFL press conference here, and more about TFFL, which is a Texas Impact project, here. If you’re a churchgoer, the odds are good that your denomination is involved in this effort. Please check it out and make your voice heard as well.

House Appropriations Committee passes a budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The itty bitty budget deal

It’s not nothing, but not by much.

Gov. Rick Perry and House leaders struck a deal Tuesday to spend $3.2 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to fix one piece of the state’s budget shortfall.

[…]

Perry said at the start of the session that lawmakers should not use any rainy-day fund money, but he has softened his position in recent weeks to say the money should be used as a last resort. By endorsing the House vote Tuesday, he in many ways abandoned his last-resort position, since the January-to-May session is only halfway over.

Still, Perry’s posturing could go a long way in shaping the debate about how lawmakers should combat their much larger shortfall as they write the budget that begins in September.

“As we craft the next two-year budget, Texas leaders will continue to focus on a more efficient, fiscally responsible government, essential state services, and private sector job creation,” Perry said in a statement. “I remain steadfastly committed to protecting the remaining balance of the Rainy Day Fund, and will not sign a 2012-2013 state budget that uses the Rainy Day Fund.”

Many Republican lawmakers, fearful of looking weak to conservative activists by twice taking money out of the fund, are likely to agree with Perry.

“I think the governor wants to make sure that we don’t come back for more,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, who says the $3.2 billion is all the House will take from the rainy day fund. “I cannot get votes to use it for anything else.”

While it’s better to use some of the Rainy Day Fund than none of it, this will do very little to mitigate the huge cuts that are still coming for public education, Medicaid, and everything else. And that’s just how Rick Perry and the most radical factions of the Republican Party want it. Burka sums up what happened.

Perry steamrolled the House. He limited the spending of the Rainy Day Fund to 3.2 billion, all of it to balance the budget by paying the state’s bills. The rest of the 4.3B necessary to balance the budget will come from more cuts ($800M and $50M).

Then, for good measure, he vowed to veto the budget if lawmakers attempted to spend any of the remaining money in the Rainy Day Fund.

I don’t know what the leadership in the House has been doing, but Perry has been calling in House members to lobby them against using the Rainy Day Fund. He has also been lobbying the committee. Obviously, he is a heckuva good lobbyist.

The House won nothing in the negotiations except the ability to spend $3.2B from the Rainy Day Fund, but only for the purpose of balancing the budget. It was a hollow victory because the state cannot constitutionally fail to balance the budget. All the $3.2B achieves is to spare the state the embarrassment of being technically broke.

Democrats on the Appropriations Committee voted for HB275, which authorized the use of the RDF for the 2010-11 biennium, then voted against companion bill HB4, which made the further cuts Burka mentioned.

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, said the leadership is using the rainy day fund to avoid the embarrassment of failing to pay its bills, which Comptroller Susan Combs has said would be result if they didn’t use some of the $9.4 billion reserve fund for the current deficit.

“We’re willing to tap the rainy day fund to save face but we’re not willing to tap the rainy day fund to mitigate the harm that is going to be inflicted upon our children,” Villarreal said. “That, in a word, is irresponsible.”

Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, took the criticism from Democrats in stride, acknowledging that this is the political reality.

And that needs to be the message that gets through next November. The Republicans wanted the cuts that are to come. They’re going to get them, and they need to be held responsible for them.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 27-0 Tuesday afternoon to move HB 275 to the floor. The substitute bill authorizes the state to draw down about $3.1 billion from the Budget Stabilization Fund, commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund. A companion bill, HB 4, passed out of the committee on a party-line vote. That legislation is controversial because it outlines where the savings will come from. Lawmakers began the day short about $4 billion. After the Rainy Day funds are taken into account, the rest of the savings comes from Combs’ revised $300 million sales tax revenue estimate and more than $800 million in cuts. That latter figure is alarming, but officials say most — if not all — of those reductions have already been implemented by state agencies over the past two years.

Democrats objected to the effects the potential cuts may have on education and health care services. They also spoke out against the governor’s refusal to consider using any additional Rainy Day funds to cover the next biennium’s shortfall, especially since Perry has clearly stated he will not support any kind of tax increase.

“[This statement] ties our hands,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “To say you cannot consider the Rainy Day Fund for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 is irresponsible.”

I suspect we’ll be hearing that word a lot. In related news, more specific cuts were made.

The Appropriations Committee just approved deep cuts to the Health and Human Services Commission and the four departments it oversees. The vote was 16-8. It wasn’t quite along party lines, as Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, joined dissenting Democrats.

Chief social services budget writer John Zerwas, R-Spring, said addition of $2 billion from Tuesday’s decision to spend rainy-day dollars eased the pain a bit. He said that allowed members to “to get it to a place that’s at least a little more comfortable than where we started.”

Still, cuts to home-based care for the disabled and seniors, nursing homes, prevention programs for child abuse, programs for developmentally disabled children and health care providers remain far deeper than any belt-tightening taken in the last fiscal crisis in 2003.

If you’re lying on a bed of broken glass and rusty nails and someone gives you one of those little airplane pillows for your head, you’ll be a little more comfortable than you were before. But you’ll still be a long way off from being in a good place. A statements from Rep. Villarreal is here, and from Rep. Eric Johnson is here.

Sibley in for SD22 special election

With the official resignation of State Sen. Kip Averitt, his predecessor in SD22, David Sibley, has announced that he will be a candidate for the May special election to fill the remainder of Averitt’s term.

The winner of the expected special election isn’t guaranteed a shot at the general election to serve during the 2011 legislative session.

That will be decided by the county party chairs in the district. The chairs from the Democratic and Republican parties each will meet to select replacement candidates on the general election ballot.

But Sibley made it clear in his statement that he’s running to position himself as his party’s choice in November.

“I believe I have a proven conservative track record at getting results, the understanding of the legislative process and the familiarity with issues of importance to Senate District 22 that will benefit all 10 counties in the district during this tough upcoming session,” he said.

Darren Yancy, who lost to a non-campaigning Averitt in March, is also in. I feel confident that several others will jump in as well. I’ll be surprised if Sibley wins this election and does not get named the Republican nominee for November. He’s the strong favorite for each. More from the Trib, which notes that there will also be a special election in HD100 to fill out Rep. Terri Hodge’s term. No word yet if Eric Johnson will be in for that – he may as well, it’d be some added seniority for him – but he’ll be the representative from HD100 next year regardless thanks to his win in March.

Election results: The Lege

There are way too many races to recap here, and since the Trib has done such a thorough job of it, I’ll leave the heavy lifting to them. A few highlights:

– Steve Ogden easily won re-nomination in SD5, and Kip Averitt was returned to the ballot in SD22. Each faced fringe opponents, so these are good results as far as maintaining a functioning Senate goes. Averitt as we know had sought to drop out. He may yet do that, at which time we’ll get appointed nominees from both parties; if he changes his mind, he’s in, as no Dem filed originally.

– Borris Miles won by a razor-thin margin over Al Edwards in HD146. The margin as of this morning was all of eleven votes. Yes, you can expect a recount, and that’s a small enough number that there’s a chance the outcome could change. Don’t carve anything into stone just yet. A statement from Miles’ campaign is beneath the fold.

– Despite some predictions that Rep. Terri Hodge, who recently pleaded guilty to lying on her tax returns and stated her intention to resign after being sentenced, would still win her primary, challenger Eric Johnson defeated her by a large margin. There is no Republican challenger, so Johnson will be sworn in next January.

– Rep. Betty Brown, best known for her inability to handle Asian names, lost. That’s good. Rep. Tommy Merritt of Longview, who had faced primary challenges every cycle this decade for his opposition to Tom Craddick and other acts of heresy, also lost. That’s not good. Rep. Delwin Jones is in a runoff. On the Democratic side, Reps. Dora Olivo of Fort Bend and Tara Rios Ybarra of South Padre Island lost, and Rep. Norma Chavez of El Paso is in a runoff. Go click those Trib links for more.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll post links to more coverage later as I see them.

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Hodge pleads guilty, will resign

Well, at least this got resolved before the primary.

State Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, pleaded guilty early this morning to lying on her tax returns in connection with the FBI’s Dallas City Hall public corruption investigation, an act that ends her 14-year political career.

Hodge, 69, now a convicted felon, is dropping her re-election plans, and will resign her position as District 100 representative in the Texas House when she is sentenced. At Wednesday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn said she wanted sentencing to occur as soon as possible.

“Ms. Hodge will have pleaded guilty today to a felony and will still be representing her district,” Lynn said. “I’m not real keen on that notion.”

Attorney Jeff Kearney said Hodge needed about 90 days to close down her legislative offices. “There are thousands of files” in her offices, he said, dealing with district and constituent business amassed during seven terms in office. “She can’t throw those in a dumpster.”

It must be noted that the deadline to officially withdraw from the ballot has passed, even for deceased candidates, so it is possible that Hodge could still win, in which case she’d have to be replaced on the ballot; as there is no Republican candidate, the Dallas County GOP would then get to pick someone as well, much as it would be in the case of Sen. Kip Averitt. One hopes that won’t happen and that the voters will choose challenger Eric Johnson, who has run a strong campaign and who received the DMN endorsement last month, but one never knows. It would have been nice of Hodge to step down before it came to this, but I suppose she kept believing she could beat this right up till the point where she agreed to take the plea.

Anyway. Here’s more from the Trib, with background from me and the Observer. A statement from Rep. Hodge is beneath the fold.

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Election tidbits for 9/28

Two weeks till Early Voting begins.

Psst! Hey, Peggy! Rep. Kristi Thibaut represents HD133 here in Houston, not Galveston. Just FYI.

As for the news that the GOP will be targeting State Rep. Abel Herrero, given the 2008 partisan index of HD34, plus the apparent likelihood that the Dems are once again punting on the statewide races and don’t have much of a plan to engage their base in South Texas, it makes sense. On the other hand, Herrero performed pretty decently against a well-funded opponent (he had more money, but not that much more), and I don’t at this time see him as being in much danger; at least, I don’t see him as being in as much danger as some other Democrats. But if I were a Republican, I’d want to take a shot at him, even if I thought it was a long shot.

Republican State Rep. Charlie Geren may face another primary challenger. After taking Tom Craddick and James Leininger’s best shots, I doubt he’s seriously worried.

Speaking of primaries, Democrat Eric Johnson boasts about raising over $100K in his effort to unseat State Rep. Terri Hodge. I think the verdict in the Dallas City Hall corruption case, for which Rep. Hodge has been indicted but not yet tried, will be the bigger determinant in his race than his fundraising, but it can’t hurt to have the resources to run.

Empower Texans, one of the conservative agitprop groups in the state, wants to know if you think Sen. Hutchison should resign or not. Not sure why they think if she does resign it will “save taxpayers up to $30 million”, and I’m not sure why that’s her responsibility and not Governor Perry’s, since the cost of the special election is in part a function of the date he sets for it, but whatever. I don’t expect logic from these guys anyway.

Was that Rasmussen poll that showed a KBH bounceback against Rick Perry a bogus result?

Last week, the Press named Sheriff Adrian Garcia the Best Democrat, and County Judge Ed Emmett the Best Republican. I can’t argue with either of those choices.

Mayoral candidate Gene Locke has recordings of numerous robocalls being made on his behalf by various elected officials that support his candidacy. I’ll say again, I think you ought to be spending your money on other forms of outreach, like mail – in this case, why not do these recorsings as radio ads – and save the robocalls for GOTV efforts. I say this as someone who generally hangs up on robocalls. Maybe I’m the exception here, I don’t know. But I suspect most people find these things more intrusive and annoying than anything else.

Speaking of ads, Peter Brown is set to release his third TV ad tomorrow. I’ll post the video when I get it. So far, that’s Brown 3, Parker 1, Locke 0, and I haven’t seen Parker’s ad on the tube yet. Still wondering when we’ll see new poll numbers so we’ll know if Brown’s air war has moved anyone into his column.

Terri Hodge draws a challenger

State Rep. Terri Hodge, a fixture in HD100 since 1996, has drawn a challenger for next year.

Dallas lawyer Eric Johnson announced [Friday] that he is running for the District 100 seat in the Texas House.

That’s the seat currently being held by embattled Democrat Terri Hodge.

Hodge is currently under federal indictment on bribery charges and is expected to go to trial this summer.

She has not had a major opponent since being elected to the House in 1996.

Several candidates have expressed interest in running for the District 100 seat, but most of their plans were contingent on Hodge being convicted of a felony that would have disqualified her from office.

In his release that I’ve attached below, Johnson appears to be running no matter what happens to Hodge at trial.

Expect other candidates to join the fray if things don’t go Hodge’s way.

I got that release late last week as well, and a subsequent one that I’ve put beneath the fold as well. Here’s a couple of updates on that bribery case. Most of those charged are going to trial on June 22, though Rep. Hodge will be tried separately. It ought to be a high-profile case.

The Observer wrote a profile of Rep. Hodge last year after no one filed to run against her despite the charges that had been filed. She’s been a staunch advocate for her district, where the article notes the charges are seen (or at least were at the time) with skepticism, and a tough competitor. At the end of this legislative session, she asserted her innocence to the DMN. I’ve no idea how this will go for her, but it’ll be very interesting to watch.

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