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Wendy Davis takes a victory lap

As well she should.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis, the woman whose 11-hour filibuster focused national attention on Texas’ efforts to restrict abortion access in 2013, celebrated Monday when the Supreme Court ruled that the state law was unconstitutional.

“I’m overjoyed,” Davis said in an interview with MSNBC. “I have to tell you, I was fighting back tears a moment ago, as I was reading the SCOTUSblog and the first line that came out saying that the 5th Circuit opinion or decision had been reversed. It’s incredible news for the women of Texas. It’s incredible news for women throughout this country.”

In a 5-3 decision Monday, the Supreme Court struck down two abortion restrictions in a Texas law, known as HB 2, that would have shut down dozens of clinics across the state. It mandated that abortions take place in ambulatory surgical centers, or mini hospitals, instead of regular clinics.

On June 25, 2013, Davis, then a state senator, took to the floor of the Texas Senate to protest the legislation. Davis’ filibuster successfully helped Democrats delay passage of the bill, although the Senate later passed it in another session.

Since HB 2 went into effect, the number of abortion clinics in Texas has dropped from 42 to 19. Davis said Monday she expects it will take several months for access to rebound.

“But I know there are many people and organizations that are committed to making sure that that health care is returned, and that women have their reproductive freedoms restored in Texas,” she said on MSNBC. 

The title of this post is taken from a Dan Patrick sour grapes quote, and I can just imagine some of the things he’s been saying out of reporters’ earshot. Stings a little when you get slapped like that, doesn’t it, Dan? The point here is to remember that Wendy Davis was right. She was right that HB2 was a sham that would hurt women, she was right to get on the record all of the inconvenient fact-based medical questions that the Republicans refused to answer but the Supreme Court one day would, and she was right to stand and fight even though the votes were against her and she couldn’t later capitalize on that energy in the next election. The fight itself mattered, and even with the cost that came with it the vindication that Monday’s ruling brought was well earned and deserved. Whatever else happened since that day, Wendy Davis was right. We shouldn’t ever forget that.

Filibuster threat for open carry

We could have some end of session drama this year again.

Sen. Jose Rodriguez

State Sen. José Rodríguez said Thursday that if the opportunity arises, he plans to filibuster a bill allowing the open carry of handguns in Texas.

Speaking at a Texas Tribune event, the El Paso Democrat said he thought the legislation was “totally unnecessary” and presented a threat to the safety of police officers and the public.

“I think my back is problematical, but I assure you, for this issue, I will stand as long as I can,” Rodríguez said.

The legislation — House Bill 910 from state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman — has already passed both chambers of the Legislature. It is headed to a conference committee, where Senate and House appointees must iron out key differences in the bill.

See here for the background. Sen. Rodriguez’s threat came before the controversial “no-stop” amendment was stripped from the bill by the conference committee.

“The Dutton/Huffines amendment is dead,” said state Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevárez, an Eagle Pass Democrat who took part in the negotiations over House Bill 910.”There’s nothing more to do. That was the only bit of housekeeping on the bill that was to be had. It’s a done deal, for all intents and purposes.”

Once the House and Senate appointed a conference committee to work out differences on HB 910 Thursday, it took only a few hours for the panel to release a report.

Both chambers still have to approve the amended bill, and I have no doubt that they will if they get to vote on it, though there will surely be some gnashing of teeth over the change. The deadline for passage is midnight Sunday, so if Sen. Rodriguez is going to make a stand, that’s when it will happen.

In the meantime, campus carry is also going to conference committee, and will also likely emerge in a different form.

In the Senate on Thursday, the bill’s author, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, requested a conference committee on the legislation to work out differences between the two chambers.

The Granbury Republican said he had concerns with language added in the House that would include private universities in the new law.

“I am duty-bound to protect Second Amendment rights parallel to private property rights,” said Birdwell. “We must protect most private property rights equally, and not protect one or the other.”

Lawmakers who argued for requiring private universities to follow the same rules as public institutions say it’s a matter of fairness.

“If we are going to have it, I don’t know how I’m going to make a distinction between my kid who goes to Rice University and one kid at Houston,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.

[…]

House lawmakers also added provisions that exempted health facilities and let universities carve out gun-free zones. When the bill originally passed the Senate, Birdwell rejected several amendments attempting similar changes.

I suspect this one will take a little longer to resolve, but we’ll see. Maybe Sen. Rodriguez will set his sights on it, too. See this Trib story about how removing the “no-stop” amendment also removed a headache for Greg Abbott, and Trail Blazers for more.

The fallout from the chubfest

Cleaning up some loose ends…The campus carry bill that was the subject of much chubbing passed on final reading.

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The battle over “campus carry” is headed back to the Texas Senate after House lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to legislation requiring universities in the state to allow concealed handguns on campus.

Senate Bill 11 from state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, narrowly avoided becoming a casualty of a key midnight deadline Tuesday before House members brokered a last-minute deal to accept several amendments limiting the measure’s reach.

Despite speculation that opponents would put up a fight before Wednesday’s vote on final passage, the measure sailed through in a 102-44 vote. Three Democrats — Tracy King of Batesville, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City and Abel Herrero of Corpus Christi — voted with Republicans for the measure.

The language added in the House exempts health facilities, lets universities carve out gun-free zones, and states that private colleges would have to follow the same rules as public universities. It is a significant departure from the version that passed the Senate, where Birdwell rejected several amendments attempting similar changes.

If the Senate does not concur with the new language, lawmakers will then head to conference committee to iron out their differences. After that, both chambers will have to approve the final version of the bill.

Seems unlikely to me that the Senate will concur with the changes, which both weakened and broadened the bill. If I had to guess, I’d say they’ll take their chances in a conference committee. We’ll see.

Speaking on conference committee, that’s where the other carry bill is headed.

After outspoken opposition from the state’s law enforcement officials, the Texas House on Wednesday took a step toward removing a controversial provision from legislation allowing licensed Texans to openly carry handguns.

At the center of debate was language added to House Bill 910 in the Senate that limits the power of law enforcement to ask those visibly carrying guns to present their permits. Opponents say that provision amounts to a backdoor effort to repeal licensing requirements for handgun-toting Texans altogether, endangering the lives of police officers and the public.

The issue will now be hashed out by Senate and House appointees behind closed doors in a conference committee.

The move to negotiate in conference committee passed against the wishes of the bill’s author, state Rep. Larry Phillips. The Sherman Republican said the language was needed to clarify current law.

He found support from some unlikely allies, including state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who said the provision was needed to prevent racial profiling.

“I’m not willing to give up my liberty in order for the police to go catch some criminal,” said Dutton, who unsuccessfully proposed the amendment when the bill first came up in the House. He gave a fiery speech on Wednesday in favor of keeping the language, which had been added in the Senate by Republican Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

[…]

The two former police officers in the chamber — state Reps. Allen Fletcher of Houston and Phil King of Weatherford, both Republicans — also teamed up to argue against it.

King urged lawmakers to give law enforcement officials the courtesy of at least allowing a committee to explore a compromise on the issue.

“I honestly believe that the unintentional result of the amendment … is to make it very difficult to do their job,” said King.

The partisan dynamics of this one are interesting, to say the least. I have no idea what will happen in committee. As the story notes, if the process takes long enough, the bill could wind up being vulnerable to a last-day filibuster. Who will put on the pink sneakers this time?

The other bill that generated a bunch of chubbing was the ethics bill. That passed, too, but not without a lot of drama.

After a passionate and sometimes raunchy Tuesday night debate, the Texas House on Wednesday gave final sign-off to a far-reaching ethics reform package that would shine light on so-called “dark money” while heavily restricting undercover recordings in the state Capitol.

The bill faces a potentially bruising showdown with the Senate over the details. A stalemate could torpedo the bill, and along with it a significant chunk of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priorities for the session. But the 102-44 vote in favor of the Senate Bill 19 keeps it alive as the 2015 session comes to its dramatic finale over the next few days.

State Sen. Van Taylor, a Plano Republican who has carried ethics reform in his chamber, quickly issued a statement on Tuesday night expressing “astonishment for the elimination of meaningful ethics reform” in the House version of the bill.

“Some in the House apparently don’t think elected officials are the problem and instead muddled the bill with a litany of bizarre measures that point the finger at everyone besides themselves, including a page from Hillary Clinton’s playbook to launch an assault on the First Amendment,” Taylor’s statement said. “This is one of those head shaking moments that rightfully raise doubts in the minds of our constituents as to the Legislature’s resolve to serve the people above all else.”

The bill author, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said dark money has had a corrupting influence on politics in the United States and warned that without reforms those abuses will eventually visit Texas. In the 2012 election cycle, politically active non-profits spent more than $300 million in dark money to influence elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A dark money scandal in Utah also brought down that state’s attorney general.

Quoting from a message to Congress from President Ronald Reagan, delivered in 1988, Cook said the right to free speech depends upon a “requirement of full disclosure of all campaign contributions, including in-kind contributions, and expenditures on behalf of any electoral activities.”

[…]

There’s a deep split among Republicans — and between the House and Senate — over the dark money provision in the bill. It would require that large contributions of dark money — or anonymous donations made to politically active nonprofits — be disclosed.

Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, objecting to the dark money and other provisions, tried to gut the bill, which he said was “designed to protect us from the people. It’s not designed to protect the people from us.”

But his amendment failed 133-33.

That means a showdown is looming, and that could jeopardize SB 19 once it leaves the House floor.

Which could mean a special session if it fails, since this was an “emergency” item for Abbott, though he hasn’t really acted like it’s that important to him since then. Once again I say, I have no idea what will happen, but it should be fun to watch.

As noted in the previous post, the last minute attempt to attach Cecil Bell’s anti-same-sex-marriage-license bill to an otherwise innocuous county affairs bill was likely to come to nothing – late last night, Rep. Garnet Coleman sent out a press release saying the bill had been pulled from consideration in the Senate, which settled the matter – but that didn’t stop the Senate from thumping its chest one last time.

Following an emotional floor debate, the Texas Senate passed a resolution Wednesday evening reaffirming the state’s opposition to same-sex marriage, an action taken as it became clear that a bill to prevent such marriages in Texas was dead.

The body’s 20 Republican senators and state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, voted for Senate Resolution 1028, authored by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, that affirmed “the present definition” of marriage in the state.

“This resolution is intended by those of us who signed it to demonstrate that we continue to support what the people of this state have expressed,” state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said.

Whatever. I’m too tired to expend any energy on this. It has the same legal effect as me saying “Senate Republicans and Eddie Lucio are big fat poopyheads”, and about as much maturity.

Finally, here’s a look at criminal justice bills and where they stand – some good things have been done – and an analysis of how the rules were used as the clock waned. I’m ready for a drink, a long weekend, and sine die. How about you?

#GiveToWendy

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A year ago at about this time, a group of progressive blogs joined forces to raise money for the Wendy Davis campaign, which at that point was only a month old and all of the usual “early money” maxims applied. The only “early” now is early voting, which begins in three days, but late money still helps, too. I’m joining in this push to ask you today to make a contribution to the Davis campaign to help her make that final push to get everyone possible out to the polls.

I know, everyone’s asking for money. Believe me, I get all those desperate begging emails, too. If you want to skip this post and move on to the rest of today’s content, I don’t blame you. But if you’re still here, let me make my case, as briefly and hyperventilation-freely as I can.

Like so many people, I was inspired by Wendy Davis’ courageous actions on the Senate floor last summer, and outraged by the underhanded and small-minded tactics that were used to try to shut her up. I was thrilled when she announced her candidacy for Governor. And like many people, there have been times when I wished her campaign had made other choices. But I’ve never wavered in my belief that the state of Texas will be infinitely better off with Governor Wendy Davis that it would be with Governor Greg Abbott. If you’re reading this blog, I trust that you don’t need me to enumerate the reasons for that. But that’s what it comes down to. And that means we all want to be in a position to wake up on November 5 and say to ourselves, “I did what I could”.

If you’re already doing other things – calling, knocking on doors, talking to family and friends, whatever – then bless you. You’re making a difference. If you’ve already given to your limit, then thank you. It really means something. If you’ve got some capacity left, we still need you. Just click the link or the picture up top, and you’re good to go.

I don’t have a cutesy finish, and I won’t end this with a PS. Please give if you can – any amount will help – and thank you if you do. If you’re inspired to make further contributions to the other fine candidates on the ballot with Wendy – Leticia Van de Putte, Sam Houston, Mike Collier, John Cook, Steve Brown – or if you’d just rather give to one or more of them instead, that’s awesome, too. Every little bit helps, and everyone’s help is needed. Thank you very much.

Davis’ abortion disclosure

I agree with PDiddie that this is the big story of the weekend, and likely most of the upcoming week, too.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor, reveals in her new book that she terminated two pregnancies for medical reasons, both more than 15 years ago.

Davis’ new book, Forgetting to Be Afraid, officially goes on sale on Tuesday. Details of the book were first reported by The Associated Press and the San Antonio Express-News on Friday evening.

The book reveals that Davis terminated a pregnancy in 1997 during the second trimester due to the fetus having an acute brain abnormality after Davis received multiple medical opinions suggesting that the baby would not survive. Davis describes in heart-wrenching detail how the experience crushed her.

“I couldn’t breathe. I literally couldn’t catch my breath,” Davis wrote of her reaction when she first learned the diagnosis. “I don’t remember much else about that day other than calling [husband] Jeff, trying to contain my hysterical crying. The rest of it is a shocked, haze-filled blur.”

The doctor said that the baby wouldn’t survive to full term, and if she did, she would suffer and probably not survive delivery. “We had been told that even if she did survive, she would probably be deaf, blind, and in a permanent vegetative state,” Davis wrote.

“At some point in the almost two weeks of second and third and fourth opinions and tortured decision making, I could feel her little body tremble violently, as if someone were applying an electric shock to her, and I knew then what we needed to do,” Davis added. “She was suffering.”

After their doctor “quieted” the baby, who Davis and her husband had named Tate, Davis delivered the baby by cesarean section. The next day, she wrote, “we asked an associate minister from our church who was a trusted friend to come and baptize her. We took photographs of her. And we said our goodbyes.”

She said a nurse brought the baby to her and “had dressed her in a tiny pink dress and placed a knit cap on her enlarged head.”

“On her feet were crocheted booties, and next to her was a small crocheted pink bunny. Jeff and I spent the better part of the day holding her, crying for her and for us,” Davis wrote. After the baby was “taken away and cremated,” Davis describes the despair that followed.

“An indescribable blackness followed. It was a deep, dark despair and grief, a heavy wave that crushed me, that made me wonder if I would ever surface,” she wrote. “It would take me the better part of a year to ultimately make my way up and out of it. And when I finally did come through it, I emerged a different person. Changed. Forever changed.”

An earlier pregnancy in 1994 was terminated as it was an ectopic pregnancy, in which an embryo implants outside the uterus. This time, Davis and her husband were pregnant with a baby boy, who they referred to as “Baby Lucas.”

Davis says that her doctor said it would be dangerous to her health to continue the pregnancy. “The only medical option was to have surgery to terminate the pregnancy and remove the affected fallopian tube — which in Texas is technically considered an abortion, and doctors have to report it as such,” she wrote.

“We all grieved the loss, but I grieved most deeply — a sadness and an emptiness took root in me where Baby Lucas had been,” Davis wrote.

There are excerpts available here. I trust that folks who had been complaining that Davis hadn’t spoken enough about abortion during her campaign will give that a rest now. Everyone agrees that this is A Very Big Deal, but I doubt anyone knows how it will play out politically. Just as we’d never had a President announce support for same sex marriage until 2012, I can’t offhand think of a similar statement of this magnitude in a high-profile election. Certainly, nothing like this that wasn’t considered to be shameful, if not career-ending, from infidelity to pot-smoking to divorce to mental illness and so on and so forth. Oh, there will be people who will believe this to be shameful, but I doubt any of them were the least bit sympathetic to Davis in the first place. It will be interesting to see if the troglodyte brigade – Erick Erickson and the like – manages to keep a lid on their baser impulses or not. I wouldn’t hold my breath on it, but you never know. As for this election, I’d say the conventional wisdom is as follows, from that Express News story:

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said he doesn’t expect the revelation to lose any votes for Davis, since he said it’s a relative small proportion of voters who oppose abortion in cases of severe fetal abnormality.

“The group that will be most bothered by her having an abortion of a baby with a severe fetal abnormality is a group that wasn’t going to vote for her anyway,” he said.

“The positive side of it for her is it humanizes her, and also makes it a little tricky for opponents to attack her on the abortion issue because now, it not only is a political issue for her, but it’s a personal issue,” Jones said.

Like I said, we’ll see what the trolls do. They never truly go away, and they can be clever sometimes. It’s hard for me to believe that at least one prominent member of the Republican political establishment won’t find a way to step in it between now and November.

Two numbers to keep in mind. Here’s one:

In the June 2014 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, we asked registered voters in Texas under what circumstances they felt it would be okay for a woman to obtain an abortion, including when the woman’s life was in danger and when “there is a strong chance of a serious defect in the baby.” Overall, 76% of Texans thought a woman should be allowed to have an abortion when her life was in danger, and 57% thought that a woman should be able to obtain an abortion when there was a strong chance of a serious fetal abnormality.

And two.

Talking about abortion is rare — but the actual experience isn’t. More than one in every five pregnancies — 21 percent, excluding miscarriages — are terminated, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit research organization that supports abortion rights. Each year, 1.7 percent of American women between 15 and 44 have an abortion.

You can feel however you want to about that. I’m not going to change your mind, and you’re not going to change mine. But it’s a fantasy – a very dangerous, deadly fantasy – to think that we can somehow eliminate abortion. For a wide variety of reasons, a large number of women every year want them, need them, and get them. Making abortion illegal won’t make it go away any more than making marijuana illegal made people not smoke pot. We can allow women to have unfettered access to this medical procedure in safe places by medical professionals, or we can put up all sorts of needless, petty, and harmful barriers between her and her doctor and hope against all evidence that she’ll change her mind. My fantasy is that someday we recognize the cruel fallacy of that. The Trib has a video clip from Davis’ appearance on Good Morning America to be aired tomorrow as well as more excerpts – clearly, someone has been busy reading over there – and BOR and Texpatriate have more.

The fire still burns

As an addition to my own response to Lisa Falkenberg’s column about the one-year anniversary of Sen. Wendy Davis’s historic filibuster and the popular uprising around it, I want to call your attention to Andrea Grime’ piece in RHRealityCheck. It’s not a response to Falkenberg or anyone in particular, it’s her recollection of the events of last year as she lived them, and what has happened with her and others that were involved since then. I include it here because it’s a compelling read and it does address some of the things Falkenberg wrote about.

FightBackTX

I woke up on the morning of July 13—a Saturday—feeling broken, enraged, helpless. Even after a few hours’ sleep, I was more exhausted than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Days before, I’d made the mistake of telling my husband I’d have brunch with his father-in-law and some of his work colleagues. When it came time to get out of bed, I didn’t even bother. I don’t know what I told my husband to tell the guys. I didn’t really give a fuck. I wanted to sleep, I wanted to cry, I wanted to fall through the mattress, through the floor, through the crawlspace, through the dirt, down deep into the Texas soil beneath our house and nest there, hide where no one could tell me it was time to go to another meeting, time to file another story, time to gather up my shit and move to another hearing room, time to plead with lawmakers who couldn’t even be bothered to pretend to half-listen to reason, lawmakers who played on their phones and passed notes while my fellow Texans broke their hearts open between pink limestone walls, telling stories they’d never even whispered aloud before that summer.

So I slept, and then I ate some Lipton instant rice with about half a tub of sour cream on top. That’s what I eat when I’m sad. Lipton instant Spanish rice. Daisy Light sour cream. I think I Instagrammed it before I went back to sleep, grudgingly setting my alarm for 4 p.m. Because I had another thing to do: drink beer. And I dreaded it.

Which is, uh, unusual for me. Let’s say that. Unusual. “Dread” and “drink beer” are about as far apart as two things can get on my emotional spectrum. But the Saturday after HB 2 finally passed was the same Saturday I’d scheduled our usual Austin feminist meet-up—really, more of a “drink up” group that’d been meeting monthly since November 2011. We called it #ATXFem, most of us knew each other from Twitter, and it had come to be sort of a thing. We’d wear name tags, drink beers, do feminist coloring projects, talk shit, organize. And for the first time in more than 18 months, I didn’t want to go hang out and get drunk with a bunch of feminists.

But #ATXFem is sort of my baby. So I dragged my ass out of bed, threw on my “Wendy F’N Davis” tank top, and arrived late to my own Internet nerd party.

When I walked into the bar, all I could see was orange. The Dog & Duck, a malty-smelling pub just a few blocks from the state capitol building, was packed from, well, dog to duck with people wearing orange t-shirts. I didn’t make it to the beer line for ten minutes—there were too many hugs, too many tears. That Saturday was our biggest #ATXFem meeting yet, and we closed down the bar making plans for what to do next: where to donate, who to call, who to write.

Since that day, I have seen nothing that looks like a loss of passion or a surrender to the inevitable, though GOP pundits and mainstream Texas newspapers seem to love the narrative that progressive, liberal and moderate Texans forgot everything they learned last summer as soon as they were home safe, tucked in their beds.

What I have seen is an incredible outpouring of time, of money, of soul. Because the knowledge that Texans gained last summer—how to testify in front of a committee hearing, how to contact their legislators, hell, how to just know the names of their representatives—can’t be taken away from them. They now see how the system works, and how the system has been manipulated by right-wing lawmakers who have grown lazy and self-satisfied, comfortable with their bully pulpit.

There’s a lot more, including stuff about Battleground Texas, but I want to encourage you to click over and read the whole thing. The point again is that rallies and public events like the anniversary commemoration very much have their place, but if they’re not being backed up by the hard and unglamorous work of organizing, they’re more for show than anything else. And if you find yourself complaining about feeling uninspired after the public events have faded away, maybe you need to check out some of those unsexy but deeply vital organizing events. I guarantee, there’s plenty of inspiration to be found at those.

What would you have done differently?

Lisa Falkenberg remembers the Wendy Davis filibuster and complains about what has and hasn’t happened between then and the one-year commemoration of it.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

You don’t just dust off a social movement because a year has passed and you need to raise money. The fire Davis lit has to be fed and tended if it’s going to spread. The Fort Worth senator may take for granted votes of those who already joined her cause. But what about the social liberals and moderates who haven’t joined Davis’ cause? What about the sympathetic but distracted voters who need to be deeply moved to get to the polls in November?

Some of her supporters agree with me and think Davis ought to dance with the ones that brung her. Others don’t. State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, a veteran advocate for women’s rights, says the movement hasn’t lost momentum. It’s just spread out.

“At some point, people want to see the results on bread and butter issues that affect their lives every day, like equal pay and minimum wage,” she added.

Thompson is right in saying abortion isn’t an everyday issue for most Texans. But neither is gay marriage or gun control. Reproductive liberty gets under our skin in the same way. We’re talking about constitutional rights.

Other Davis supporters say she has done enough talking about the issue. Indeed, who has talked more?

“There’s not a Texan alive who isn’t clear on her position on a woman’s right to choose,” Democratic consultant Harold Cook told me awhile back. “What more could she say?”

The problem, though, isn’t that we’re unclear. The problem is that we’re unmoved. And that’s no way to lead a movement.

I get the complaint about fundraising. I’ve heard it from other folks, too. Not to state the obvious here, but 1) Wendy is going to need a lot of money to have a chance against Greg Abbott, who is already mounting plans to carpet-bomb the airwaves this fall, and 2) if those emails weren’t effective, she’d have stopped sending them. Any mail client worth its salt has filtering options. No one has to see these emails if they don’t want to.

Falkenberg’s complaint comes in two parts. First, she thinks Davis should be talking more about abortion since it was her passionate defense of abortion rights that led directly to the amazing events of a year ago and ultimately to Davis’ gubernatorial campaign. Again, I get the complaint and have heard it from others. But honestly, what is there to say? One of the problems here is that Governor Wendy Davis can’t actually do anything to undo the harmful legislation that was passed last summer and in the sessions before that. She can’t roll back any of the provisions of HB2, she can’t do anything about stuff like the kneecapping of Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Health Program, and she has no authority to force the Attorney General to not defend the law in court. Politicians get into trouble when they promise things they don’t have the power to deliver. The former two require legislative action, and that ain’t happening. The one thing she can do is promise to veto new restrictions on abortion. I’m not sure how much value there is in this – I mean, everyone does know where she stands on that, and I at least find a lot of talk about the need to draw lines in the sand and stand firm in defense of what we have left to be more grim than inspiring. YMMV, I guess.

Falkenberg, to her credit, recognizes the political calculations behind all this. Campaigns are choices, and we can always disagree about which choices will be the most effective. My complaint with Falkenberg’s column comes in two parts. One, she never acknowledges that leading a movement is about much more than just talking about an issue. Davis is very much trying to reach out to and connect with those sympathetic but distracted voters – it’s the keystone of her whole campaign! – she’s just doing it by doing the grunt work of organizing, block walking, phone banking, and so forth. Maybe that’s not what inspires Lisa Falkenberg, but as the Battleground Texas folks can attest from their experiences with the Obama campaign, it works pretty well for getting people to the polls. No guarantees, of course – maybe it won’t be as effective here, and even if it is it may not be enough. But it’s a pretty well-established way to lead a movement, and if you think otherwise, I’d like to know the reasons that aren’t about your own preferences.

And two, if you were inspired by Wendy Davis a year ago and you’ve been sitting around waiting for her to inspire you again, I’m sorry but you’re part of the problem. That grunt work of organizing I mentioned? It doesn’t happen by itself. Michael Li of the great Texas Redistricting blog has posted to his Facebook wall many times about how some Democratic activists seem to prefer carping about campaigns than participating in them, and how a lot of us tend to spend our time talking to each other instead of talking to the Presidential-year-only voters (I’ll say it again: Roughly half of the people that voted for Barack Obama in Texas in 2008 did not cast a vote in 2010) and the people who aren’t registered but could be. Now that’s no way to lead a movement, because a successful movement has many, many leaders in it. Disagree all you want about the choices Wendy Davis is making, but if you’re sitting on the sidelines, you need to ask yourself why you’re not involved.

I’m going to close with a bit from this Ross Ramsey article in the Trib, which I thought was one of the better analyses of the filibuster and the celebration of it.

The filibuster was a big deal, whether you were delighted by it or dismayed.

It added to efforts that were already underway — from Battleground Texas and others — to rebuild the state’s patchy network of liberal voters, and now it is a rallying point for Democrats. And it got conservatives calling for changes in the way the Senate does its business.

The Republicans got their law. The Democrats found their candidate for governor after her filibuster triggered an invigorating public display of the power of crowds.

[…]

The real measure of the anniversary will come in the general election in November.

The people who assembled at the Capitol a year ago learned at least as much as the Senate did. They came, they made noise, they had an impact, and they found out that they were not alone in a political environment that is dominated by people they disagree with.

Sustaining that kind of passion is difficult, but so is getting it started in the first place. That’s why they’re celebrating.

Amen to that. I understand why a journalist like Lisa Falkenberg might be reluctant to participate in a BGTX phone bank or block walk. But as both a journalist and a voter, I think Lisa Falkenberg should check a couple of them out to see what inspiration looks like to the people participating and the people they’re talking to. Who knows, maybe she’ll find a little of it for herself, too.

The filibuster one year later

It still resonates. And I believe it will continue to resonate for a lot longer.

The thousands of Texans whose screaming protest of anti-abortion legislation brought the Capitol to a standstill June 25 will mark the one-year anniversary much more quietly this week, yielding to the reality of abortion as a political issue in the most scarlet of red states.

The activists say they are as dedicated as ever to defending abortion rights, and Democrats certainly are working to raise money off of the “People’s Filibuster” of House Bill 2, with a commemorative website and an anniversary fundraiser in Austin featuring their nominees for governor and lieutenant governor – state Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte – two players in last year’s nationally watched drama.

The strategy illustrates how the anniversary is a double-edged sword for Davis, the filibuster’s face, but also for Van de Putte and the rest of a Democratic Party eager to reignite the passion of last summer but unable to afford to alienate moderates in a state that still opposes abortion.

“At the end of the day, elections are about turning out your base and winning over swing voters,” said Mark Jones, chair of the political science department at Rice University. “The anniversary is going to mobilize the base, but it’s not going to persuade swing voters, and it’s not an issue on which a Democrat is going to win.”

“Effectively,” Jones said, “Davis (and other Democrats) need to walk a tightrope.”

With all due respect, now is not the time to worry about swing voters. Now, and all the way through November, is the time to ensure as many Democratic voters and would-be Democratic voters are fully engaged and involved. I fully agree that Dems will need some number of people to split their vote if we want to have a chance to win one or more statewide elections, but if the base level isn’t high enough it just won’t matter. I mention this to everyone I talk to – only about one half of the people that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 came out to vote for Democrats in 2010. This is a big part of the reason why Bill White is described today as “former Houston Mayor Bill White” and not “Governor Bill White” despite his greatly impressive crossover performance. We can worry about the people who find some or all of the Republican statewide slate scary on a variety of issues but just can’t get past the abortion thing, however many of those people there may be, at a later time. For right now, if we’re not talking to the Presidential-year-only Democratic voters and unregistered people who would vote Democratic if they were registered, we’re doing it wrong.

To be very clear, I’m not dismissing the importance of swing voters. We’re going to need all of them we can get. All I’m saying is let’s not put the cart before the horse. If Dems get the same 1.7 to 1.8 million base vote they’ve been getting for the past three non-Presidential elections, it’s just not going to matter how well Davis or Leticia Van de Putte does among swing voters. There won’t be enough of them to matter.

So the celebrations and commemorations this week are really important. The energy we had one year ago was real and it was incredible. You can’t sustain that level over that long a period of time without burning out, but there’s been a good simmer all along, and you can see it in the work that’s being done by the Davis and Van de Putte and other statewide campaigns and by Battleground Texas and many other grassroots organizations that were there that day and that night. For a fantastic oral history of what all went down at the Capitol that week, go visit Fight Back Texas and read the stories. Remember what happened, feel again what you felt one year ago, attend an event if you can, and then channel that into some kind of outreach. Go find a BGTx phonebank or block walk event and join in. That’s what we need, for the next five months and beyond. Let the pros worry about this demographic or that. Take the time now to talk to our people, and make sure they know what’s at stake.

Wendy Davis is our Texan of the Year

From the Texas Progressive Alliance press release:

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

The Texas Progressive Alliance, the nation’s largest state-based association of online and netroots activists, today named State Senator Wendy Davis recipient of its Texan of the Year Award for 2013.

“Senator Davis’ actions this year made her a clear choice. Our vote was unanimous,” said Vince Leibowitz, Chair of the Alliance. Leibowitz said Senator Davis’ June filibuster of Senate Bill 5 on behalf of Texas women and the preservation of reproductive rights was a courageous action that served to galvanize and energize Texas Democrats. “Senator Davis’ courage to stand up and block this outrageous legislation helped raise awareness in Texas of the assault on a woman’s right to choose that our legislature has waged for the last decade, as well as the extraordinary measures right-wing Republicans in Texas will take both to trample the rights of women and their own colleagues in government,” Leibowitz continued.

Not only did Davis’ actions draw national attention to Texas, but her filibuster and subsequent campaign for Texas Governor have galvanized Texas Democrats. “We have not seen this kind of excitement for a non-presidential election in Texas in many years. We see Democrats are energized, organized, and ready to take back our state for the people. To a great extend, we have Senator Davis and her courageous actions to thank for this; she served as a unifying figure for our party to rally around, and her actions will both strenghten the party in the long run and serve to expand our base,” said Charles Kuffner, Vice Chair of the Alliance.

Previous Texan of the Year recipients are: Carolyn Boyle of Texas Parent PAC (2006); Texas House Democratic Leaders State Reps. Jim Dunnam, Garnet F. Coleman, and Pete Gallego (2007); the Harris County Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign (2008); Houston Mayor Annise Parker (2009); Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns (2010); and the protesters of the Tar Sands Blockade (2012). There was no award given in 2011.

Yes, I’m quoting myself in a press release. Deal with it. PDiddie adds a wrapper on this that I can’t improve on, so go click over there for his thoughts. All I can say is that I hope 2014 is an even better and more successful year for Sen. Davis.

We need you, Leticia

Please decide soon.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Leticia Van de Putte did not announce her candidacy for lieutenant governor when she addressed the Bexar County Young Democrats on Wednesday night.

But it was the way Van de Putte didn’t announce it that provided encouragement to the 35 party activists in the Weston Centre conference room and fed the growing buzz that San Antonio’s veteran state senator might have her name on a statewide ballot next year.

This is what we know: Van de Putte is more amenable to a lite-guv campaign this time around than she was four years ago, when Democratic leaders urged her to enter the fray and she turned them down.

One reason the idea looks better to her now is that all six of her kids have graduated from college, and, as she said with a laugh, “are on someone else’s health care plan.”

The other obvious difference is the political phenomenon that Wendy Davis, Van de Putte’s friend and Senate colleague, has become since she filibustered for 11 hours on the Senate floor in opposition to a bill designed to restrict abortion access.

[…]

Van de Putte said she plans to meet with Davis sometime this week and made it clear that she wouldn’t entertain the thought of a statewide run without her friend at the top of the ticket.

“It has to be the right combination and a synergy,” Van de Putte told me after her speech. “It’s got to be a cumulative strength.”

While we wait for that decision, we get to put up with the joker that is our current Lite Guv and his chucklehead main opponent.

During his first public encounter with three Republican challengers, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Monday spent an uncomfortable hour in Houston defending his 10-year record against assertions he allowed Democrats and “mob rule” to thwart the passage of conservative legislation.

In a debate sponsored by Houston’s Ronald Reagan Republican Women’s Club, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said missteps by Dewhurst permitted Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis to nearly derail abortion regulations with a filibuster in June that could have been prevented.

“Wendy Davis should never have had the floor that day,” Patrick said. “There are many ways we could have stopped that from happening.”

Though Davis blocked passage of the bill only temporarily, Patrick blamed the theatrics surrounding the legislation on “a lack of planning, a lack of leadership, a lack of vision.” He said he decided to challenge Dewhurst after a shouting crowd in the gallery temporarily halted Senate work in late June.

“As lieutenant governor, I will not ever let mob rule take over the Senate,” he said.

[…]

Patrick claimed that Democrats have been allowed to block legislation on sanctuary cities and school choice largely because Dewhurst has given them too much power.

“I will not appoint half of the Democrats as chairman of committees,” he said.

Dewhurst responded that Democrats led only five of 17 Senate committees and assured the crowd that none of them was important.

I’m going to outsource my response on this to Ed Sills, who summed it up beautifully in his daily email:

Not important? This might be news to Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The panel has helped lead Texas toward some true cutting-edge, bipartisan reforms – perhaps the one area in which Texas has pioneered a progressive and much-imitated approach to legislation in recent years.

It might be news to Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who chairs the Government Organization Committee, Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who chairs the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who chairs the Jurisprudence Committee, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate Open Government Committee, and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who chairs the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee.

(In fact, it was news to Van de Putte, who published a letter she sent to Dewhurst expressing “great shock” that he thinks the panel that addresses veterans issues was not “important.” See her letter.)

It might be news to Texas veterans, who have prospered from legislation approved by Van de Putte’s committee. It might be news to the many statewide Republican incumbents who have touted the importance of governmental “transparency” that neither Ellis’s nor Zaffirini’s committees matter much to Dewhurst.

It might also be news to Dewhurst, who apparently didn’t realize he has actually appointed six Democrats to chairmanship positions, not five. (Shades of Gov. Rick Perry?)

But the criticism here shouldn’t focus solely on Dewhurst. What Patrick is saying is even more dangerous for working families in Texas. Patrick has made it clear he wants the Texas Senate run like Congress, in which the majority party dominates the agenda and the process. More specifically, he wants it run like the U.S. House, where that dominance is closer to absolute; in the U.S. Senate, the minority party does have the ability to gum up the works and must be reckoned with.

If Patrick becomes Lieutenant Governor and has his way, the “two-thirds rule,” which requires that large majority to cast a procedural vote before legislation can be discussed on the Senate floor, would be no more. We knew that already, based on Patrick’s previous efforts to change the rule. What we didn’t know (though admittedly we could have guessed) was that Patrick apparently intends to let the Republican caucus do all the legislating whenever disagreement runs along partisan lines.

Given the number of enemies Dan Patrick has accumulated among his fellow Republicans, it’s entirely possible that the Senate – which gets to set its own rules, including the rules about what the Lite Guv gets to do – could strip him of power if he wins. Note the comments of the Texas Trib insiders to this point. Sure, they’d likely de-fang Lt. Gov. Van de Putte as well, but on the plus side, a Lt. Gov. Van de Putte would mean that the only way either Dan Patrick or David Dewhurst would get onto the Senate floor is with a visitor’s pass, after having been checked to make sure they’re not carrying any jars of feces, of course. BOR, Texpatriate, Texas Leftist, and Texas Politics have more.

Yeah, they’re still working on a transportation funding bill

The committee hearings will continue until morale improves.

Same hair and same amount of crazy as Rick Perry

After consulting with members from both the House and Senate, state Rep. Joe Pickett decided to make some minor changes to his latest transportation funding proposal. On Thursday — the third day of the third special session — a House committee gave his altered proposal its endorsement.

Pickett added a provision to the plan that would require the Texas Department of Transportation to find $100 million in “efficiencies” over the 2014-15 biennium and put that money toward paying the agency’s multibillion-dollar debt. Paying off that much debt early would save the agency $47 million in debt service payments, Pickett said.

“I wanted a buy-in by the agency,” Pickett said. “I wouldn’t propose it if I didn’t think they were up to the challenge.”

In a 6-1 vote, the House Select Committee on Transportation Funding approved House Joint Resolution 1, with state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, voting no. The committee voted unanimously in favor of the related House Bill 1.

The House is expected to try to pass the plan again early next week. Because it involves amending the Constitution, HJR 1 needs support from 100 members of the 150-member House. A similar plan failed 84-40 on Monday, a day before the end of the second special session. Pickett and others said they believe the measure failed because 23 members were absent that day, not because there aren’t 100 members of the House who support the plan. A version of the legislation also failed in the first special session.

I would argue that the bill didn’t fail in Special Session 1, the bill was failed by David Dewhurst, who chose to play politics rather than let it come to a vote before Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster. Perhaps enough members will show up for the floor vote this time around, or Rep. Pickett’s changes will get enough Republicans to support it, so that it doesn’t meet the same ignominious fate as in Special Session 2. And good Lord will I be happy to get a break from blogging about special sessions.

Special Session 3: Beyond Thunderdome

Beyond ridiculous, if you ask me, not that they did.

Same hair and same amount of crazy as Rick Perry

Standing before mostly empty chairs in the 150-member Texas House on Tuesday, House Speaker Joe Straus adjourned the second special session and announced that Gov. Rick Perry would be calling them all back for a third special session later in the day.

After gaveling in the House at 2:36 p.m., Straus briefly thanked members for their time and hard work during the second special session before acknowledging Perry would probably call a third special session 30 minutes after both chambers had officially adjourned the second special session.

“See you in 30 minutes,” he quipped, telling the few dozen House members in the Capitol to stick around for the opening of the third session.

An aide to Perry confirmed that the governor plans to call a third special session shortly.

Some Republicans would like to blame the Democrats for this fine mess they’re all in.

“I think we need to remember why we are having this extra special session. One state senator, in an effort to capture national attention, forced this special session,” Capriglione told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I firmly believe that Sen. Wendy Davis should reimburse the taxpayers for the entire cost of the second special session. I am sure that she has raised enough money at her Washington, D.C., fundraiser to cover the cost.”

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prarie, who leads the House Democratic Caucus, said Capriglione calling on Davis to reimburse taxpayers is “absurd.”

“The special sessions have largely been political and just a continuation of decade-old culture wars that do very little to resolve policy and do a lot to continue to divide Texans and in the process wasting a lot money,” Turner said. “The decision to call a special session is the governor’s and governor’s alone, he has to decide if its worth the costs.”

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, tweeted Monday evening that Dewhurst should have passed the transportation bill in the first special session on the night of Davis’ filibuster.

Lt. Gov. is blaming House for TXDOT $. History lesson: he had SJR ready to go in the 1st Special & killed it to score political pts #txlege

— Joe Moody (@moodyforelpaso) July 29, 2013

A resolution to fund transportation had cleared both Houses and members of either party had said publicly the measure had enough support to pass. Dewhurst declined an appeal from Democrat lawmakers to bring up and pass the measure before the abortion filibuster began and the measure – like the abortion restrictions – failed to pass the first special session.

“It seems to me the lieutenant governor’s priority was focusing on partisan issue of abortion and trying to score political points rather than taking care of the business of the state ready to be resolved,” Turner said.

Not to mention, as Texpatriate points out, that Capriglione can’t count votes.

Anyways, the House only voted 84-40 in favor of the bill, sixteen short of the supermajority required for passage. Among the 40 dissenting votes, only 13 were Democrats. This means that even if every Democrat in the room had supported the bill, it would have failed. Make no mistake, the Tea Party killed HJR2.

And as I noted that’s a lot of absentees and/or abstentions. The Republicans only needed six Democratic votes to get to 100 if they were uniformly in favor. They got 27 Yeas, so any shortfall is indeed their fault.

Rumor has it that once again there will be other items on the call. At least one additional item, if there are to be any, would be welcomed by members of both parties.

Despite broad bipartisan support, Texas lawmakers have been unsuccessful this year in their efforts to pass a bill issuing tuition revenue bonds — or TRBs — to fund campus construction around the state. Returning for yet another special session, which Gov. Rick Perry called on Tuesday, may provide them with an opportunity to try again.

“I don’t think any of us have ever given up hope,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. “We would certainly like to see TRBs on the call.”

At the end of the regular session, the TRB bill was held up by political jockeying as the clock ran out. In the two subsequent special sessions, Perry did not add the issue to the official to-do list. Lawmakers could have tried to move a TRB bill, but when the legislation is not on the governor’s special session call, it’s easy to defeat on a technicality.

Before the second special ended, Perry indicated that he might consider adding TRBs to that call. “Once we get the transportation issue addressed and finalized, then we can have a conversation about whether or not there are any other issues that we have the time and inclination to put on the call,” he said.

But a plan to address the state’s transportation funding needs failed, and so TRBs were never added. Now, Perry has called lawmakers back for a third 30-day special session, and transportation funding remains the only item on the agenda — for now.

“If and when both chambers pass the transportation bill, I believe very strongly that the governor will add TRBs to the call,” state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said.

Zaffirini pushed for a TRB bill for the last three regular sessions and has already filed a bill in the just-called special session. State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, are among the 21 co-authors on Zaffirini’s legislation and have also filed TRB bills of their own.

No other items as yet, but it’s early days.

As for the main event, a little leadership might help it finally get passed.

Rep. Joe Pickett, a leading House transportation policy writer, says the Legislature’s infantry is exhausted and it’s time for a meeting of the generals.

“We’ve taken this pretty far a couple of times now,” Pickett said of lawmakers’ efforts this summer to provide a modest boost in state funding of roads and bridges.

But the push got snared by abortion politics in the first special session. In the second, it caught its pants leg in a complex bramble of disagreements that include philosophical clashes over how much money is needed in the state’s rainy day fund; many Democrats’ resentment that public schools play second fiddle to infrastructure in the state budget process; and increasingly petty resentments among Republicans who run the show. The whole thing is playing out as top Republicans figure out their futures, in a game of musical chairs for statewide offices, and lowly Republicans look over their shoulders to see if they’re getting a primary opponent this winter.

“Maybe the Big 3 should meet and see if they have any suggestions on how to get this over the line,” Pickett said, referring to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Give us some guidance or an outline” Pickett pleaded. He said several lawmakers belonging to both parties have suggested that the top leaders should huddle.

A better funding mechanism wouldn’t hurt, either. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that. BOR and Texpatriate have more.

There are other items on this session’s agenda

I know, hard to believe, but there are two non-abortion items on the session agenda, and the Senate has already taken preliminary action on two of them.

Sen. Robert Nichols

Six hours before a marathon state House committee hearing on abortion, two Senate committees quickly kicked out less controversial bills on transportation funding and criminal justice reform to the full Senate on Tuesday morning.

The Senate could vote on Senate Joint Resolution 1 and Senate Bill 2 as early as next week. The measures address two issues — transportation infrastructure funding and sentencing guidelines for 17-year-old murderers — that Gov. Rick Perry included in the second special session’s agenda. Similar pieces of legislation died on the last day of the first special session amid a dramatic fight over abortion legislation. Both Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place, refiled their legislation soon after Perry announced a second special session.

In a nine-minute hearing, the Senate Finance Committee voted 11-0 Tuesday morning in favor of SJR 1, from Nichols, which matches the version of Senate Joint Resolution 2 that the Legislature nearly passed last week. The measure would ask voters to approve amending the state Constitution to divert half of the oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund, raising nearly $1 billion a year in additional financing for road construction and maintenance. The Texas Department of Transportation has said it needs about $4 billion in additional funding each year to maintain current congestion.

About 40 minutes later, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-0 in favor of SB 2, from Huffman, which is similar to Senate Bill 23 from the first special session. The bill revises the sentencing guidelines for 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder to comply with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated mandatory life without parole for capital murderers younger than 18.

Both measures could be debated on the Senate floor as early as next week.

Sen. Nichols incorporated changes that the House added to his ball in the first special session, while Sen. Huffman’s bill was the same one she’d filed before, without including the House changes. Had the House simply voted on these bill as they were they wouldn’t have needed to be re-voted on by the Senate and thus wouldn’t have been casualties of the Davis filibuster. Alternately, David Dewhurst could have put Nichols’ and Huffman’s bills on the agenda ahead of SB5 last time around, but I guess he didn’t expect Davis to be able to keep up her effort for that long. Silly man.

In theory, the Democrats have some leverage over the transportation bill, since it is a joint resolution and thus needs a two-thirds majority in each chamber. That possibility was raised in the previous session – basically, the Dems could refuse to vote for SJR1 unless the abortion legislation was altered in some fashion, which would mean it would not have enough votes to pass. As with a quorum break, the main problem with that gambit is that as long as Rick Perry is willing to keep calling special sessions – and by now we should all be clear on the fact that he is willing – such leverage is necessarily short-lived. Once the Dems hold up their end of the bargain and vote for SJR1, their influence vanishes. If we knew for a fact that the next time the Lege convened would be 2015, this tactic could work. In the world we live in, all it can do is prolong the agony.

Anyway. Yesterday was also the day for the House State Affairs Committee hearing on HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill. As before, BOR is liveblogging things, so check over there for the latest updates. I’ll report on it after the hearing is over. The Trib has more.

UPDATE: As expected, the show hearing in the House ended at 12:01 AM, with the committee voting the bill out afterward on partisan lines 8-3. The Observer and Texpatriate have more.

Protest day at the Capitol

Pretty impressive:

View from the Capitol on July 1

The story:

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Stace reports from the Houston event last night.

I do not expect another Ardmore

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

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

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

[…]

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Time to lace up your Mizunos and head back to the Capitol

Special Session 2 starts today. If you can be there to watch the proceedings in the Legislature, that would be great.

RSVP here, and while you’re at it, give a Like to the Stand With Texas Women Facebook page. The rally on the Capitol steps will be Monday, July 1, from 12 to 2 PM. Let’s have a big crowd, but please remember that it will be hot. Dress accordingly, wear sunscreen and a hat, and drink lots of water. No heatstroke, please. As Stace notes, there’s also an event in Houston on Monday evening, so there’s something you can do even if you can’t make it to Austin.

What happened last week was huge, but what happens next is critical. Make your voice heard. Juanita has more.

What the future may hold for Wendy Davis

Patricia Kilday Hart has her take on the Wendy Davis phenomenon, including the reaction of some Republicans to it.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

For both proponents and opponents of SB 5, the legislation that would have banned abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy and required costly upgrades to abortion facilities, one point was irrefutable: The filibuster created a new star for Texas Democrats.

“She’s the real deal. Humble beginnings … and she’s wickedly smart. The fact is, she does her best against the greatest odds,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. “Her future is whatever she wants it to be.” Agreed Sen. Rodney Ellis: “The sky is the limit.”

Republican campaign consultant Matt Mackowiak said Republican strategic errors carried a real cost for his party. “We now have a Wendy Davis problem,” he acknowledged. “We created an unbelievable opportunity to launch a first-tier Democrat.”

Still, given Davis’ liberal record and the state’s solid Republican bent, he said those who think a Democratic candidate can defeat Gov. Rick Perry or Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2014 are delusional. “I don’t think that person exists,” he said.

Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, a physician who challenged Davis’ position during Tuesday’s filibuster, agreed that better Republican planning could have prevented Davis’ moment in the limelight. He had advocated passing two other pieces of legislation, and adjourning, leaving the abortion bill for a second special session.

He also does not believe that Davis “will ever be governor of Texas.” In fact, she may have difficulty hanging onto her Texas Senate seat, when she runs in 2014 in a non-presidential year,” he said.

“Obama is not on the ticket,” he noted, and her last race was a tough, expensive ordeal.

Glad to know I’m not the only one who thought the Republicans’ strategy on Tuesday was nuts. But let’s knock down this idea that Davis necessarily has a harder time holding onto her State Senate seat next year because it’s not a Presidential year. You can find all the electoral reports for the State Senate map here – look for the RED206 Statewide files. Here are the best Democratic results in SD10 for each election going back to 2002:

Year Race R Vote D Vote R Pct D Pct ================================================ 2002 Lt Gov 92,324 81,771 53.0 47.0 2004 CCA 6 151,278 111,000 57.7 42.3 2006 Sup Ct 2 79,897 71,640 52.7 47.3 2008 Sup Ct 7 146,726 138,650 50.2 47.4 2010 Gov 90,897 76,920 52.7 44.6 2012 Sup Ct 6 143,816 128,484 50.8 45.4

2008 was less hostile to Dems than other years, but 2012 is basically on par with 2006 and 2002, in terms of margin of victory. 2012 was also a lot more challenging for Davis than 2008 was. John McCain won SD10 in 2008 by 15,000 votes and a 52.1 – 47.1 margin. Mitt Romney won SD10 by 23,000 votes and a 53.3 – 45.4 margin. Despite that, Davis won by 6,500 votes in 2012, which is almost as wide as the 7,000 vote margin she had in 2008, in a friendlier atmosphere. Turnout helped her in 2008, but it’s hard to argue it was much help 2012, as President Obama received 11,000 fewer votes in 2012 than he did in 2008 in SD10. Davis’ vote total, on the other hand, was nearly identical – 147,832 in 2008, 147,103 in 2012. She was one of only three candidates to win in a district that was not carried by her party’s Presidential candidate – Craig Eiland and Pete Gallego were the other two. She got 4,000 more votes than President Obama did in 2008, and a whopping 15,000 more votes than he did in 2012. That’s pretty strong evidence of her ability to attract crossover votes. Dismiss her if you want, but this is exactly the profile of someone who could be competitive statewide. Plus, as a plaintiff in the redistricting litigation, she offered to settle by accepting the 2012 interim map for the Senate. Maybe there’s some hubris in there, but if she thought she was doomed in 2014, I daresay she’d have continued to fight for more changes to the map. We already know she doesn’t back down from a fight, no matter how long and drawn-out it may be.

Now, this doesn’t mean that she couldn’t lose in 2014. SD10 is still a red-leaning district. If 2014 is a sufficiently GOP year, the hill could become too steep for her. Her elevated profile could work against her as well in that it might make her look more like a partisan Democrat to her Republican supporters, thus making her less attractive to them. It’s usually not that hard to convince people to vote for the home team. I suspect her profile is already pretty high in her district and the voters there already know what team she plays for, after two high-profile Presidential year elections, but crossover appeal can be a fickle thing. On the other hand, if she thinks there may be reason to be concerned about her prospects in SD10, that would serve as incentive to roll the dice on a statewide run. Be careful what you wish for, Sen. Deuell.

I suspect the bravado about her never being Governor masks a certain nervousness, too. Republicans must know that what happened on Tuesday is something they can’t control. Forget the political junkies and their yapping about parliamentary procedures, and forget the Internet junkies and their incessant memes. Focus on the fact that Wendy Davis is getting positive attention from lifestyle columnists and Amazon shoe reviewers, all of which will contribute to making Davis a known and likable figure among the lower-information folks. Don’t underestimate the power of the shoes here to help get the word out. If I hear my mother-in-law mention the name Wendy Davis, I’ll know for sure this is working.

On a more basic level, the fact that Rick Perry felt the need to take a cheap shot at her is mighty telling. As Wayne Slater notes, Perry has just elevated Davis to his political level, implying that she is this fearsome adversary he must fight. Not to mention the fact that he sounded like an arrogant, patronizing jerk – exactly the sort of behavior Kyrie O’Connor was talking about in her column. Maybe no one has ever told Rick Perry this, but the vast majority of women really really don’t like that kind of crap. Remember Sandra Fluke? Or Clayton Williams? During the marathon #StandWithWendy filibuster on Tuesday, I saw a tweet from someone who wondered how long it would be before Rush Limbaugh called Sen. Davis a slut. That hasn’t happened yet, but there are a lot of Rush acolytes out there, and I find it impossible to believe that one of them won’t follow Perry’s insult with something really nasty sooner or later. That sort of thing didn’t work out very well for the GOP in 2012. Davis herself was a beneficiary of that in her 2012 race. It’s fine by me if the GOP wants to go there. I just don’t think they’ve thought it through if they do.

Anyway. Sen. Davis has responded to Perry, and I’m quite certain this is not the end of it. Sen. Davis is leaving the door open to running for Governor in 2014. There’s certainly a lot of interest in her walking through that door. She’d need some stars to align for her to take that risk, but right now at least it looks to me like they just might be moving in that direction.

UPDATE: And when someone says something vile about Sen. Davis, Roy will be there to document it.

UPDATE: Fantasy casting the Wendy Davis biopic. Yeah, this is bigger than you think.

Still standing with Wendy

Let me just say that I hope Sen. Wendy Davis slept in yesterday, and did nothing more strenuous than channel surfing and ordering takeout. She’s earned a lazy day, and a lot more than that. And while she (hopefully) took a well-deserved rest, the media spotlight continued to shine on her.

KillTheBill

State Sen. Wendy Davis has held the Texas spotlight before. But Tuesday night’s marathon abortion filibuster propelled her into the national spotlight.

By the time the Senate unsuccessfully forced the vote on some of the nation’s strictest abortion regulations, the 13 hours Davis had spent on her feet challenging the measure had gone viral, drawing praise on social media from President Obama, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and celebrities like author Judy Blume and actors Lena Dunham and Henry Winkler.

“I have never seen a Texas senator suddenly make world news over the course of 13 hours,” said longtime Democratic consultant Harold Cook. “I’m not sure it was possible before Twitter, honestly. At the start of the day, this was a local story. By the end, it was an international story.”

The attention has prompted even more speculation that the Fort Worth Democrat, who was first elected to the Senate in 2008, could be a future statewide contender — even a gubernatorial candidate. At a minimum, she is poised to have a wider fundraising base if she seeks re-election in 2014.

Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak predicted that her fundraising potential was now “unlimited.”

“If they were doing really smart things — some of the things Ted Cruz‘s campaign did in the last U.S. Senate race — she can raise millions of dollars over the next couple of months online alone,” he said. “I think she may be able to do that anyway.”

[…]

As of late Tuesday night, roughly 200,000 people were watching the proceedings on The Texas Tribune’s YouTube feed. Obama tweeted, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight,” followed by the hashtag “#StandWithWendy.” Even filmmaker Michael Moore and comedian Sarah Silverman got in on the social media action.

Davis started the day with just 1,200 twitter followers; by early Wednesday morning she had more than 46,000.

“Because of the way this worked out, from a procedural and strategic standpoint,” Mackowiak said, “I think the Republican leadership in both chambers of the Legislature unwittingly helped create a national Texas Democratic star.”

Way many reactions from the day after:

PDiddie
Nonsequiteuse
Harold Cook
Greg
BOR
Juanita
Texas Leftist
Hair Balls
Burka
HuffPo
TPM
Kos
Kos again, with a “Draft Wendy?” post
The Fix
Texas Politics
The Slacktivist, who would like there to be singing the next time this happens. I think he’s onto something there.

And pretty much everywhere else on the Internet. Mashable has a nice social media roundup, Buzzfeed did its Buzzfeed-y thing, and the Observer and Trib have excellent slideshows from the chamber. I think the one with the five forlorn (white male) Republican State Reps from the Trib is my favorite. And if you still can’t get enough, here’s the interview I did with Sen. Davis prior to the 2012 election. Oh, and because the Internet clearly demanded it, here’s the Texas Senate Clock’s Twitter feed. You’re welcome.

At the end of the day yesterday, Rick Perry announced Special Session 2, to finish the issues that were killed by Davis’ heroic filibuster. That will give Davis another chance to fight, however unlikely her success will be, and to give David Dewhurst another chance to make a fool of himself. We all knew this was coming – as I said yesterday, I don’t understand why the Rs didn’t cut bait in the evening and have Perry make the announcement then. If this makes you mad, that’s good, as long as you channel it into something productive. If this makes you feel in despair, please snap out of it. If Wendy Davis can stand and talk for 11 hours straight without any kind of break to make sure that her voice and the voices of women across Texas were heard, the least we can do is honor her effort by not moping about this inevitable piece of news.

We need everyone who has paid even cursory attention to this story to hold onto it at least until next November. Midterm elections are all about who shows up. The Republicans showed us the key to winning in 2010. Like they did then, we need a bunch of our every-four-year voters to break that pattern next year and show up to make their voices heard. I’ve said before that if the same number of people who voted for John Kerry in Texas in 2004 turned out in 2014, Democrats would likely sweep the statewide offices. It’s not rocket science. We still need the candidates, but Lord knows we ought to have all the incentive we could need. You want to #StandWithWendy? Make sure everyone you know that needs to vote next year does so. Winning elections is the best revenge. Hair Balls, BOR, and Stace have more.

Filibusted

I figure this is about how the Republicans think of Sen. Wendy Davis right now:

Well, they probably think a few more things, too, but this is a family blog.

If you didn’t stay up late last night and follow the Wendy Davis filibuster by one means or another – I’m pretty sure the Senate livestream would have gotten higher ratings than half of NBC’s fall lineup – I doubt I can explain to you what happened. Go read the Trib and Observer liveblogs, and check the StadWithWendy Twitter hashtag. I spent more time on Twitter last night than I had in the previous six months combined.

It should be noted that the Senate had other business to attend besides SB5 yesterday.

A proposal from Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, that raises nearly $1 billion annually for state road construction and maintenance is within striking distance of heading to Texas voters for approval. Senate Joint Resolution 2 would ask voters to approve amending the state constitution to divert half of the oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund. The measure passed the House Monday after House Transportation Chairman Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, amended it to, in part, address concerns about the Rainy Day Fund’s future. Under the amendment, severance tax revenue would only be diverted from the Rainy Day Fund for roads in years when the fund has a balance of at least one-third of its legislative cap, a figure that varies over time. If senators approve the changes Tuesday, the proposed constitutional amendment will be placed on the November ballot. Nichols has requested that the Senate take up the measure before SB 5, the abortion bill, to ensure that a possible filibuster doesn’t doom both bills.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Despite Sen. Nichols’ request, SB5 was first on the agenda. As such, both it and SB23, the bill dealing with capitol murder sentencing for 17-year-olds, also were snuffed out by the filibuster and the ensuing chaos. Make no mistake, putting them behind SB5 was by design, so that if Rick Perry needed to order double overtime, he could blame the unfinished business on those nefarious Democrats. I’m sure Dan Patrick would be happy to go along with that.

Sen. Davis successfully talked for 11 straight hours, without stopping or even pausing for more than a few seconds, without eating or drinking or relieving herself or leaning on anything, before the farcical third ruling that she was talking about something not germane to SB5. (She was talking about sonograms, which of course have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with abortion and its restrictions in this state.) It’s a massively tall order, and from the beginning it likely would have been for naught, at least if stopping SB5 were the only goal. We all know that the Republicans hold the cards. Rick Perry can order another special session five minutes after this one ends, and without redistricting to clog the calendar a bill like SB5 would pass with plenty of time to spare. But some fights aren’t about whether you win or lose, they’re about whether you fought or rolled over. Say what else you want, Democrats didn’t roll over. Wendy Davis sure as hell didn’t roll over. Oh, and she kept standing after her filibuster was interrupted by that last point of order.

And as with the Killer Ds in 2003, Davis and the Dems have received loads of national attention for their refusal to go quietly. Slate tweeted that however this ends, Wendy Davis is going to be a hero for women around the country. Damn right she will.

Here’s some background on Sen. Davis if you’re not familiar with her already, and here are five contributions you can make to support the cause of reproductive freedom. Everybody was fundraising off of this last night, so I’ll leave it at that.

All other points aside, if you want a reminder of what this is all about, read stina’s very personal story. Sen. Wendy Davis read many stories like that as part of her filibuster, because that’s what this was all about. If you’re not inspired, I don’t know what could inspire you. For the ironic last word, see Texas Redistricting.

UPDATE: The final verdict after the chaos died down is that SB5 did not pass because it was not voted on until after midnight, so by the state Constitution it could not have been voted on and thus cannot be enrolled. Nice to know that at least one rule was still in effect for the Senate.

I really have to wonder what Dewhurst et al were thinking. Everyone knew they were ultimately going to win – it was just a matter of how long it took and how they got there. Imagine if at 6 PM or so, after Davis had been talking for seven hours, instead of trying to stop her via ridiculous points of order, they simply announced that SB5 had been withdrawn, brought the other measures to a vote, and adjourned. Then, while everyone who had been Standing With Wendy began to celebrate, Rick Perry announced that Special Session #2 would begin tomorrow, and abortion restrictions would be the only agenda item. Sure, that would take another week or so to get done, but it would have avoided last night’s clusterfsck, kept Davis from becoming a national icon (while also preventing Sen.s Watson and Van de Putte from raising their profiles as well), and completely crushed the energy and spirit of Davis’ supporters. Now they have to have a second session anyway, and the Republican leadership looks like a Keystone Kops tribute band. Tell me that wouldn’t have been a vastly better outcome for them. Texpatriate, BOR, and Wonkblog have more.

No action on SB5 in the Senate

The name of the game is running out the clock.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Texas Democrats, far outnumbered by Republicans in both the House and the Senate, are nonetheless on the verge of killing one of the most restrictive abortion proposals in the nation — at least for now.

Using delaying tactics and parliamentary rules, the minority party argued into the wee hours in the state House on Monday morning and then stuck together to keep the GOP from jamming Senate Bill 5 through the Senate in the afternoon. Republicans vowed to try to try to muster enough support to push the bill through again Monday night, but it was unclear if they could change any minds.

SB 5, by state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks and would establish stringent new requirements for facilities that perform abortions. Supporters of the bill say it would make the procedures safer for women and protect unborn babies. Abortion rights proponents say the legislation would shut down most of the abortion facilities in Texas.

With barely more than a day left in the 30-day special session called by Gov. Rick Perry at the end of May, that means Democrats have moved much closer to putting the controversial measure within the range of a filibuster.

“I think we are now in a position to try to do what’s right for the women of this state,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “We need to be protecting women’s health in this state, and we need to be protecting a woman’s right to make choices about her body.”

Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat and rising star in the party, has vowed to launch a filibuster. Unless Republicans can change some votes, the abortion measure can’t be brought up for debate until Tuesday morning at about 11 a.m. Since the session ends at midnight Tuesday, that means she could kill the legislation by talking nonstop for about 13 hours.

The Democrats won a test vote at about 4 p.m., turning away a GOP attempt to fast track the abortion legislation by suspending a 24-hour layout rule. It takes a supermajority — two-thirds of those present — to suspend that rule. The Democrats voted as a bloc and stopped debate on the measure.

There was a second attempt to get a motion to suspend but it failed as well. The Senate is in recess until 10 AM today. As noted, from that point on it’s a matter of someone talking till midnight, at which point the session expires. There could, of course, be a second session called, but you take your victories where you can.

In the meantime, let the blame game begin!

Accusations of who’s to blame for the anti-abortion proposal’s potential demise already are starting to fly.

Look no further than the always vocal Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who blasted leadership after the Senate recessed Monday afternoon.

In a short back-and-forth with reporters, Patrick said “very clearly it does not look like there was coordination between the people who lead the majority” when it comes to Senate Bill 5.

“It’s just clear that we appear to be flying a little bit by the seat of our pants. These are important bills. You don’t fly by the seat of your pants when you try to pass important bill.”

Patrick added: “We’re the majority if the majority can’t pass the legislation they think is important and the people think is important then that’s a great concern to me.”

In response, Lt. Gov David Dewhurst said Patrick misrepresented leadership’s strategy and that he “had a very clear plan” to “pass good pro life legislation.”

Dewhurst quickly turned the table to focus on the House, which passed SB5 Monday morning.

After passing the bill, the House sent SB5 to the Senate for the upper chamber to concur with a change it made when the lower chamber put back language to ban abortions at 20-weeks.Concurring with the House change is the final step for the Senate before sending the bill to Gov. Rick Perry.

But because the House wrestled with SB5 from Sunday evening all the way into Monday morning, it delayed the Senate’s ability to move forward and cut short the potential for an even longer filibuster from Democrats.

“I asked the House ‘please don’t send it to us at the last minute, please,’” Dewhurst said. “Send it out at the latest on Sunday afternoon, so we’ll be able to take it up outside of filibuster range. “

Dewhurst added: “The House, by passing this out late this morning, it means that we can’t bring the bill up until tomorrow at 11 o’clock … most of us … could stand up for 13 hours and talk. That’s the reason why I wanted Senate Bill 5 passed out of the House by late afternoon Sunday, so we could bring it up this afternoon, and I think out of filibuster range where its difficult for most people to talk for 36 hours in a row.”

I don’t know, I might have included Rick Perry in the blame, since he sets the session agenda and all. But then, Dan Patrick isn’t (possibly) running against Perry. And it must be noted, Dewhurst did try to go the extra mile.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in a letter Monday that the he plans to move forward with a package of strict abortion restrictions even if the San Antonio Democrat is away attending services for her recently deceased father.

“I cannot in good conscience delay the people’s work on these important matters,” Dewhurst wrote Monday.

[…]

Van de Putte’s vote could be what determines whether Democrats can block Republican efforts to suspend the 24-hour layout rule. Without her, Democrats don’t have enough votes to block it.

And Van de Putte is scheduled to be in San Antonio on Monday attending services for her father, Daniel San Miguel Jr., who was killed in a car accident last week. Van de Putte lobbed a letter at Dewhurst a day earlier (rumors have been swirling all day at the Capitol about Van De Putte potentially showing up; her office declined to comment).

In his letter, Dewhurst offered condolences but made clear the Senate cannot wait because time is running out on the special session.

“I believe we can fulfill our obligation to the people of Texas while honoring your beloved father’s memory,” he wrote.

The wild card in the equation: Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

Lucio supports the package of anti-abortion bills, and he’s also planning to vote in favor of a motion to suspend the 24-hour layout rule. But he’s said he won’t cast that vote unless Van De Putte is on the floor.

“Senator Van de Putte asked me directly — knowing I support Senate Bill 5—to nonetheless vote no on suspending the 24-hour posting rule on the bill until she can be in the Senate chamber to cast her vote against it.” Lucio said. “I am honoring Senator Van de Putte’s request.”

Heck of a guy, that David Dewhurst. Remember when he tried to take advantage of John Whitmire being in the bathroom to push through a vote on voter ID during Mario Gallegos’ convalescence after his liver transplant? Good times. Lucio thankfully stuck to his word, and Dewhurst was thwarted – for now – having ruined Sen. Kevin Eltife’s vacation for nothing.

So it comes down to today, and there will be filibustering. Maybe the Rs have something up their sleeve to overcome that – after 10 AM, all they’ll need is a majority vote – and as noted, maybe Rick Perry will call another session. But this is a win, and as was the case ten years ago with the Killer Ds, it’s a galvanizing event. If you’re in Austin today, you can be there to see it for yourself. And wherever you are, you can keep the ball moving after sine die, whenever that may be.

Finally, I can’t let this go without a tip of the hat to Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, who demonstrated that one does not have to be a man to say something profoundly stupid and offensive about rape. As they say, sometimes no sarcastic remark seems adequate. PDiddie has more.

In which I try to find common ground with Sen. Patrick

From a news item about President Obama’s nomination to helm the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

Congress created the bureau a year ago this week with the enactment of the Dodd-Frank law, which overhauled financial regulations after the credit crisis. The bureau, a centerpiece of the sweeping new law, has since emerged as one of the thorniest topics in Washington and on Wall Street.

Putting a director in place is critical because the agency will not gain the full measure of its powers until the Senate confirms a nominee. The agency can supervise the compliance of banks with existing laws, but the Dodd-Frank financial legislation dictates that it cannot write new rules or supervise other financial companies without a director.

[…]

Republicans made it clear on Sunday that they were no more likely to confirm Mr. Cordray than Ms. Warren. Forty-four Republican senators have signed a letter saying they would refuse to vote on any nominee to lead the bureau, demanding instead that the agency replace a single leader with a board of directors.

One of the things my new pal Sen. Dan Patrick and I talked about on that recent Houston8 episode was the Texas Senate’s two thirds rule. He’s against it, in case you hadn’t heard, and he talked at some length about how much more the Senate was able to do in the special session when the two thirds rule was not in effect. I’m certain, therefore, that Sen. Patrick will join me in condemning this obstructive tactic by a minority of Senators in Washington, and call on them to reform their rules so the majority party can do what it was elected to do. If it’s good enough for Austin, it’s good enough for DC. Right, Dan?

Wendy Davis profile

The Trib profiles State Sen. Wendy Davis. It’s a good read.

The filibuster was a defining moment for Davis, a twice-divorced single mother who had her first daughter as a teenager, was the first in her family to go to college, and worked her way from junior college and a Tarrant County trailer park to Harvard law school and the Fort Worth City Council. But what effect, if any, the moment will have on school funding or Davis’ political future remains unclear.

Some suggest it was a final hurrah for a Democrat angry over her party’s increasing ineffectiveness in a Legislature run by Republicans — and the recent GOP-led redistricting that severely threatens her reelection. They say if a special session moves the ball on school funding at all, it will be minimal, and instead opens the door for Perry’s other priorities, including the “sanctuary cities” immigration measure Senate Democrats successfully fended off during the regular session. And even if nothing changes with the school finance plan, they argue, at least parents, teachers and school districts will have the opportunity to challenge it.

“There’s a false bravado there — and no end game,” said Bill Hammond, a former Republican legislator and president of the Texas Association of Business. “Once the people realize what she has wrought, they’ll see the folly in her efforts.”

But others say it’s a watershed moment for a rising political star, who gave new life to disheartened Democrats with her efforts to derail a fly-by-night school finance plan, and lit up the Twittersphere with speculation about a Wendy Davis run for “U.S. Senate/Governor/President/Queen of the Universe/Whatever She Wants.” They argue laying the blame for a special session on Davis is ridiculous, because Perry already intended to call one for windstorm insurance and congressional redistricting.

After reviewing the timeline, I am convinced that a special session for redistricting was always going to happen. The only difference is that now school finance issues are also on the agenda. Anyone who blames Davis for this is not seeing what’s right in front of their face.

She confesses to being blindsided by the attention. In the rough and tumble world of social media, she’s been heralded as a hero and trashed as a traitor. Media outlets from around the state have descended on her office. But the always-polished Davis is handling it like a pro — one who may have higher political aspirations. After Perry effectively called her a “show horse” in a Monday press conference, Davis took him on, accusing him of using partisan tactics to help further “his presidential desires.” On Tuesday, after another Perry press conference, Davis ended up in the center of a media gaggle just feet from his office door. Though she said her first priority is winning a second term in the Senate, Davis wouldn’t rule out seeking other posts inside the state Capitol.

“In terms of increasing her profile, she has absolutely succeeded on that front,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based lobbyist who’s worked with candidates across the political spectrum. “But that also puts a big target on her as well.”

Davis says she is not concerned. “I’ve never worried about payback,” she said. “People are hungry for leadership that’s not afraid of political consequence.” And unlike most lawmakers, who operate in a system of caucuses, coalitions and allegiances, Davis often behaves as if she’s got nothing to lose.

Maybe it’s because she doesn’t. This session, Republicans redrew her Senate district in a way that ensures a tough — perhaps futile — campaign, and a likely legal battle over the new map. If the Texas Senate doesn’t work out, Davis says she’ll go back to practicing public and regulatory law, and with a good story.

I wish more politicians had that attitude. The world would be a very different place if they did. I don’t know what the political result of Davis’ actions will be. The Republicans will pass what they would have passed anyway on school finance, this time with some more attention on them, and they may pass some things that they weren’t able to the first time around, like sanctuary cities. The question is whether Democrats get a spark from this, and can use it to win elections in the future. Everyone acknowledges that the Ardmore walkout of 2003 was a galvanizing event for Democrats. The fact that the DeLay re-redistricting eventually passed anyway didn’t change that. We won’t know what the effect of the Davis filibuster will be until next November at the earliest.

Get ready for the special session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davis filibusters SB1811, special session looms for tomorrow

Hoo boy.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filibustered for a little more than an hour Sunday night, probably killing a school finance and revenue bill critical to the budget (it’s still possible for a four-fifths supermajority of the Senate to pull it up for a vote today). And the House hit a midnight deadline without approving three major pieces of legislation — including one that’s designed to corral Medicaid costs and help balance the state budget.

Gov. Rick Perry had promised earlier in the day to call lawmakers back on Tuesday if the budget bills weren’t all approved. The regular session ends today, and it looks like the first special session will begin as early as tomorrow morning.

Even without an unfinished 2012-13 budget to bring them back, Gov. Perry had already set the table for a special legislative this summer.

• The governor, tort reformers, trial lawyers and lawmakers in the House and Senate couldn’t put together a fix to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association in the 140-day legislative session, and Perry promised that if they didn’t get it done he’d call them back to Austin in July to finish up.

When they hit the deadline at midnight Saturday, they didn’t have anything except for the governor’s promise that they’ll be back.

• Lawmakers completed their work on new political maps for the State Board of Education and for the Legislature itself, but never even presented or held hearings on maps for congressional redistricting. Perry’s aides indicated for weeks that their boss would be unlikely to call lawmakers back for that purpose alone. Then, in the last days of the session, the governor told reporters he’d be willing to call a special session on congressional maps if House and Senate leaders can show him they’ve got enough votes to make it a quick deal.

Whether or not the governor is thinking about a presidential race, the memory of Senate Democrats running off to Albuquerque — as they did in the 2003 redistricting fight — has to make him wary of a session on that all by itself.

• Then there is the sanctuary cities legislation, one of six items the governor put on a list of legislative “emergencies” to speed consideration by the House and the Senate. That one didn’t make it out, and a special session could give him another shot at it.

On Sunday, they added to their troubles when the midnight bell tolled before the House had approved three bills that created interstate health compacts, contained Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s health reforms, provided funding for textbooks, and addressed efficiency in the Medicaid program. That last bill is one of several considered critical to the budget.

If the past is any guide, a special session that starts with one topic often picks up others along the way, and Perry could add other issues — new ones or things left undone during the regular session, small issues or large ones — as he goes along. Lawmakers will likely start with the budget bills on Tuesday, and if they can come up with negotiated solutions on others — redistricting, for instance — Perry might add those to the agenda.

When I went to bed last night, the failure to pass a windstorm bill was the only known reason for a special session, and it was unlikely to be immediate. This changes everything. Postcards notes that SB1811 almost went off the rails even before it got back to the Senate.

In the House, the leadership initially sought to wipe out the midnight deadline so Democrats couldn’t use it as a weapon; the bill was not eligible to be considered until 10 p.m., leaving a narrow window for action on such a large bill.

Instead, the Republicans waived the rules so they could bring SB 1811 up earlier, but only after House Speaker Joe Straus cast a rare vote.

Iconoclast David Simpson, R-Longview, joined the Democrats in opposition.

So the House proceeded in the early evening with its discussion of the mammoth, 393-page bill, primarily focusing on the school finance component.

The state will reduce by $4 billion the amount that it owes school districts under current law. The school finance provision in SB 1811 apportions that reduction among school districts.

“This proposal reflects the decisions of this body in House Bill 1,” said House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, referring to the budget bill.

That school finance provision, which was grafted onto the bill at the tail end of the session, apportions a $4 billion reduction in state aid among the school districts. Democrats objected that the school finance proposal was thrown together without input from the public or rank-and-file members.

“Now we’re being told we better the heck pass it or we’ll be in a special session, so close your eyes and hold your nose and vote for it,” said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.

But Hochberg said there is little understanding about what exactly is in the compromise proposal.

The printouts that detail how each district is affected by the reduction were not delivered to House members until Saturday afternoon, and the bill language itself was not available online until Sunday morning.

“We’re making a very big change here without any discussion,” Hochberg said. “We never brought a school finance bill to the floor this session. Never.”

That’s the key point here: SB1811 was being brought up for a vote at the very last minute because it wasn’t finalized until then. Everyone was being asked to vote on something they surely hadn’t read or understood. You’d think that would be a concern for more of them, but the Republicans in the House have dutifully followed orders from above from the beginning, so why should this be any different? During closing remarks – did we mention that debate was limited on this bill and amendments were prohibited? – Democrats expanded on their objections to it.

Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said that the proposal would codify the existing funding inequity into the system. He read a list of the spreads in funding in per student spending between the richer school districts and the poorer districts in various Senatorial districts — pointing out that the difference can be as much as several thousand dollars between the districts.

Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Dallas, was just as critical of the proposal.

“Today, what you’re voting for is Edgewood Foor,” he said and compared the decision not to touch the Rainy Day Fund to what would happen if a parent was late on child support. He said that any judge would laugh that parent out of court if they claimed they couldn’t meet their child support payment because they were preserving their savings account just in case things got worse.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said that the proposal would shortchange school funding by allowing the state to discount the ‘settle up’ expenses that the state owes the state.

“We’re making a very, very big change without any discussion,” said Hochberg. He warned that the proposal could drastically alter how programs for the gifted and talented and for shop programs are calculated in school finance.

Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, complained bitterly that the bill had only been available for reading for less than 24 hours and that the “lack of transparency” was a violation of conservative principles.

“This bill is full of the accounting tricks and chicanery that your voters said they were tired of,” said Strama.

Yeah, somehow I don’t think they really care all that much. They’ll get outraged over Sen. Davis’ filibuster for whatever reason is convenient, and it will go from there. I can’t say I’m thrilled about legislative overtime, but I salute Sen. Davis for standing up and refusing to go along to get along. A statement from Se. Jose Rodriguez in support of Sen. Davis is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Rick Perry – Rick Perry! – just accused Sen. Davis of being a “show horse”. This is like Charlie Sheen accusing someone of being an unstable egotist.

(more…)

All eyes on the Senate

I have three things to say about this:

Republicans hold a 19-12 majority in the Senate, but 21 senators need to agree to bring the bill to a vote, so Democrats have two members who can make a stand on the coming battles over the state budget, immigration, voter identification, redistricting and other hot-button issues.

“The Senate,” Republican Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston said, “is their Alamo.”

The fight to the death analogy is a good one considering the long odds Democrats face in fending off the expected wave of conservative legislation and budget cuts coming out of the House.

“People will get what they asked for: In spades,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Democrat from Houston. “And some of it may be bad. We don’t have the votes to prevent that.”

Patrick and his colleagues want to make sure the Democrats don’t have a shot.

Patrick wants to scale back to 19 the number of senators who need to agree to bring a bill to a vote — the exact number of Republicans in the chamber.

Patrick says that’s coincidental. The number 19 represents a 60-percent majority, which he says should be enough to bring a bill up for a vote.

“(The House) is going to be passing a lot of conservative legislation that Senate Democrats are going to want to block,” Patrick said. “If we allow 12 Democrats to stop everything, what was the point of the election in November?”

1. I’ve seen a lot of articles about the new GOP supermajority in the House, and they all mention the ability to pass Constitutional amendments on their own. None of them have yet mentioned that for those amendments to make it onto a ballot, the joint resolutions still need a 2/3 majority in the Senate as well. That’s a constitutional requirement, not something that is subject to the whims of Dan Patrick.

2. One wonders what Sen. Patrick thought the point of the 2008 election was, given the unprecedented level of obstruction in the US Senate from the Republican minority. The perspective sure is different when you’re the one in the minority trying to play defense.

Honestly, I can’t defend the two-thirds rule in the Texas Senate. As the Republicans in Washington have clearly demonstrated, at some point you just can’t depend on behavioral norms, and must try to create rules that don’t allow the tail to wag the dog, while still ensuring that the minority has some voice. But if the newfound progressive zeal for filibuster reform results in tangible changes next month to the US Senate’s hidebound traditions, pause for a moment and ask yourself just how much legislation in recent years was actually blocked by Texas Democrats and the 2/3 rule. Besides voter ID and (briefly) re-redistricting in 2003, I really can’t think of much. For better or worse, that’s just not how our team operates. I cannot conceive of Leticia Van de Putte handing a letter to David Dewhurst saying that the Democratic caucus will refuse to suspend the rules for any bill until their demands are met.

3. Be careful what you wish for, Republicans. I don’t think this election was about what you think it was about. We’ll see who’s right soon enough.

The immigration wedge issue for the GOP

I have three things to say about this story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of crazy Leo:

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

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

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

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

The lack of leadership

State Sen. John Carona gets medieval on his party’s leadership.

Tempers flared Saturday on the Legislature’s last weekend with a key GOP senator declaring that the session’s central theme is “lack of leadership” by top members of his own party.

“If you look at this session, you’ve got two underlying problems: One is simply the lack of leadership in the top offices and the second is the lack of any clear, compelling agenda,” said Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas.

His angst was triggered by the evident demise of a proposal to allow urban areas to raise gasoline taxes and some fees in their areas to pay for local transportation projects.

But the bickering about the bill has been emblematic of a string of sparring episodes that have played out over the last few weeks as lawmakers have struggled with successes and losses on controversial public issues.

[…]

n charging a lack of leadership, Carona referred to Perry’s expected tough primary battle to keep his job against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, speculation that Dewhurst may run for U.S. Senate and the fact that GOP Speaker Joe Straus is a novice House leader.

“You can determine that perhaps that’s because the state’s top two leaders are considering their future political ambitions. You might consider that part of it is due to the fact we have a new speaker who has his own troubles,” Carona said. “The bottom line is you can’t lead 181 members without strong personalities and a set and significant agenda.”

He particularly said Perry has failed to lead on the transportation bill, saying the governor should have supported the local-option idea since money is running short to meet transportation needs.

Once again, I’ll say that this session has been about the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary from the beginning. Rick Perry has achieved a lot of his goals, though not all of them. If you don’t like what you’ve seen, well, that’s what the elections next year are all about.

The story talks about the bills that were killed by the chubfest, and the ensuing scramble to resurrect as many of the important ones as possible. I say the fact that so many bills were in a position to be killed by that kind of delay is itself an indictment of the leadership, specifically of Speaker Straus. Look at SB1569, the unemployment insurance bill that would have gone against the Governor’s wishes on stimulus money. It passed out of the Senate committee on April 2, was put on the calendar on the 14th, passed on second reading on the 16th, and on third reading on the 20th, when it was sent to the House. It then passed out of the House committee on May 2, and disappeared until May 18, when the Calendars committee finally took it up. It was debated in the House on May 21, then postponed due to disagreements over an amendment, and was finally taken up again after all the chubbing concluded late on the 26th, where it failed to pass before midnight. It took the Senate 18 days to go from committee approval to final passage. It took the House 19 days to go from committee approval to the initial floor debate. If the House had moved at the same pace as the Senate, SB1569 would have been on its way to Governor Perry’s desk before any of us had ever heard the word “chubbing”.

Oh, and despite Burka’s helpful suggestion that the House simply punt on this, I’ll note that SB1569 passed on third reading with eight Yes votes from Republican Senators, out of 19 total. Assuming it would have gotten 70 Yes votes from House Dems (let’s assume an absence or two, and a stray No vote or two), it would have needed 30 of 75 Republican Yeas to pass with a veto-proof majority. That’s a smaller percentage of House GOP votes needed than Senate GOP votes received, so don’t tell me it was impossible. Yes, there may have been more pressure on House Republicans to vote No, but we’ll never know that now. This could have been taken up for a vote in time had the House been better organized and had it been a priority instead of voter ID.

There are other examples, of course. We know that committee assignments came out later than usual. You can cut some slack for that. The House didn’t get to voting on any bills till later than usual as well, and along the way we’ve heard complaints about the pace of the action in the House and of the length of their daily schedule. All I’m saying is there was a reason there were so many bills imperiled at the end. It didn’t have to be that way.

Getting back to Carona and his complaint, it’s making for some quality entertainment if you’re into that sort of thing. Follow the ups and downs here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Red light camera ban appears dead

So says the Star-Telegram, which has been the go-to source for these stories.

A final version of legislation restructuring the Texas Department of Transportation is not expected to include a ban on red-light cameras or a local option provision allowing county elections to raise money for road and rail projects, lawmakers said Saturday.

Members of a joint conference committee reconciling differences between the House and Senate versions of the transportation department bill are under a midnight deadline to release their report. Sen. Glenn Hegar Jr., R-Katy, the chief Senate negotiator, told the Star-Telegram that neither the local option provision or the red-light camera ban are likely to be in the final bill.

Asked if the local option provsion, strongly opposed by House negotiators, will be in the conference committee legislation, Hegar replied: “I don’t see how it does.”

He added: “I would assume there will be no ban on red light cameras, and then that the way the bill would focus on TxDOT and nothing more, nothing less.”

[…]

[Rep. Gary] Elkins acknowledged that his red-light camera ban apparently was out of the bill. He said his amendment “was being held hostage” during the conference committee deliberations, with a possible swap in which the Senate would agree to take the House-passed red-light camera ban in exchange for House acceptance of local option.

“My understanding right now is the House is not going to get its will on red-light cameras and the Senate is not going to get its will on the local option tax,” he said.

It’s also possible that HB300 won’t be able to pass – among other things, Sen. John Carona may filibuster it over its lack of a local-option provision – or if it does pass, Governor Perry, who not unreasonably thinks the whole thing has turned into a monstrosity, may veto it. In which case, the red light cameras will live on, since there would be no legislation to pass that would kill them. At this point, I’d say they’re in decent shape, though as always it ain’t over till it’s over. Hope all those contracts with camera vendors that got extended for however long don’t come back to bite anyone. EoW has more on the status of HB300 and the local option tax.

Specter switches

As Greg says, wow.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken’s victory in the state Supreme Court.)

“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”

He added: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

My thoughts:

1. I sure hope the Democrats got some kind of assurances about how Specter would vote going forward, because he needed them way more than they needed him. Given that he’s reiterated his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, the opening stanza isn’t too promising.

2. In many ways, this really doesn’t change much. Yes, assuming Sen. Al Franken gets seated sometime before he stands for re-election, this gives the Democrats the magic number of 60 members. The thing is, Senate Democrats have been a bigger obstacle to President Obama’s agenda than any other group. Conservative Dems such as Sen. Ben Nelson have the leverage to foil, water down, or otherwise pimp to their liking just about anything Obama wants to push. Specter’s switch doesn’t change this dynamic at all.

3. Having said that, there is a way in which Specter’s switch could have a profound effect:

Arlen Specter (R-PA) is rumored to be ready to become Arlen Specter (D-PA). There are a million aspects of that worth examining. But here’s one for process nuts. Check out the Senate Judiciary Committee Rules:

IV. BRINGING A MATTER TO A VOTE

The Chairman shall entertain a non-debatable motion to bring a matter before the Committee to a vote. If there is objection to bring the matter to a vote without further debate, a roll call vote of the Committee shall be taken, and debate shall be terminated if the motion to bring the matter to a vote without further debate passes with ten votes in the affirmative, one of which must be cast by the minority.

Your current lineup of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Arlen Specter
Orrin Hatch
Chuck Grassley
Jon Kyl
Jeff Sessions
Lindsey Graham
John Cornyn
Tom Coburn

Which of these fellas do you think will be ready to provide the necessary one vote from the minority to bring things to a vote in the committee on tough questions now?

Specter is caucusing with the Democrats, but he’s still a Republican as far as committee assignments go, and will be one until there’s a new organizing resolution. Same for all the other committees he’s on. Democrats were always going to call for a new organizing resolution once Franken gets seated. Now, maybe they’re willing to let that process play out. Which poison do you think the Senate GOPers would prefer to choose – the fox in the henhouse, or Senator Sixty? Decisions, decisions…

4. Speaking of which, how does this affect the KBH will-she-stay-or-will-she-resign equation? Short answer: beats the beck out of me. On the one hand, you’d think Sen. Cornyn would want her to stay that much more. On the other hand, once Franken is in place, as he inevitably will be, what difference does it make? As always, the answer is “Who knows what KBH will do?”

5. Having said that, prepare to have your mind blown even further. I don’t see any way in which this happens, nor do I see rank and file Democrats being that thrilled at the prospect, for better or worse. But crazier things have happened, and there is an objective logic to it.

6. Dealing with party switchers in general causes headaches and almost always comes with a fair bit of bellyaching up front. Which is totally understandable, especially in the case of someone as obviously calculating and driven by self-interest as Specter is. I get where people like Atrios are coming from, I really do, and it’s completely possible that what we’ll get is a nominal Democrat who doesn’t really change his behavior in any meaningful way. Even worse, we may be sacrificing the chance to elect a better Democrat in 2010 and risk losing to a Republican who’s slightly less crazy than Pat Toomey (not a high bar to clear), since the case against Specter pretty much writes itself. He’s going to have to prove himself, and I hope Dems like Joe Sestak keep their powder dry until it’s clear that Specter is walking the walk. Here in Texas, we’ve had some very good results, as State Rep. Kirk England has been a fine member of the Democratic caucus, and State Sen. Wendy Davis (who had some Republican voting history but had never held office as a Republican) is a rising star having by my count an outstanding freshman session. Whether or not the past stays in the past depends entirely on what happens going forward. It’s totally up to Sen. Specter.

7. Finally, whatever else this is about, I love Specter’s rationale for switching. It’s an acknowledgment of reality, something which his now-former colleagues have less and less experience with these days. Once upon a time, party switchers helped the GOP grow bigger and stronger. Now it’s helping them grow smaller and weaker. I couldn’t be happier about that.