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Our first look at how Engage Texas will operate

Interesting move.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As people filed in and out of the massive driver license office in Southwest Houston on Tuesday morning, two workers at a tent affiliated with a conservative advocacy group asked if the passersby would sign a petition or register to vote.

A follow-up question as two women filled out the forms: Are you conservative or liberal?

“Conservative means you believe in less government and less taxes,” one of the workers – wearing a lime green T-shirt with the group’s name, Engage Texas — asked them. “Liberal means you believe in more government and more taxes.”

State Rep. Chris Turner, who leads the Democratic Caucus in the Texas House, said he witnessed something similar Monday outside Department of Public Safety driver license offices in Fort Worth and in Hurst, a suburb of Dallas, where people who signed a petition to ‘ban late-term abortion’ were asked to register to vote.

“The taxpayers of Texas have a right to expect that their hard-earned dollars are not subsidizing political activity, as is the case here,” Turner wrote Tuesday in a letter to DPS. “And Texans who are trying to renew their driver licenses, already forced to wait hours – sometimes outside in the heat – are enduring enough already without having to deal with political operatives while stuck in line.”

But DPS said in a statement that public spaces outside driver license offices are available for “political speech,” and it appears that Engage Texas is just beginning to ramp up its efforts to register voters ahead of the 2020 elections in which the GOP faces more competitive races than it has in over a decade.

[…]

Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said the difference between Engage Texas’ voter drive and those organized by Democratic and other groups is the use of a petition or other questions to gauge a person’s political interests.

“If you’re going to be there and register voters, that’s fine,” Rahman said. “But if you’re only registering conservative voters and you’re making them do a political test … that’s where the problem is.”

Chris Davis, elections administrator in Williamson County — where Turner said Engage Texas representatives told him the group was also posted — said he wasn’t aware of any part of the law that explicitly prohibits deputy voter registrars from screening for political affiliation before registering a voter.

But Davis said he believes they have an obligation to register anyone who would like to be registered.

“Their primary charge, as I see it, is to register folks, regardless of stripe, race, creed,” Davis said. “And I wouldn’t look kindly on anyone that is trying to determine a potential voter’s leanings or proclivities as it relates to their politics or stances or beliefs before they issue out an application.”

See here and here for the background. This appears to be legal, though apparently something no one had known would be allowed by DPS before now. Let’s be honest, if any Democratic-aligned group had tried something like this – not just operating on state property, but also overtly excluding people they don’t want to register – as recently as last year, Republicans everywhere would have had a capital-F freakout. I’m trying to come up with non-hyperbolic examples of reactions they would have had, and I can’t. Everything up to and including calling out the National Guard to arrest the registrars and defend DPS parking lots from them would have been possible. Now? Desperate times, I guess. But if that’s what they want

Legislation can’t be filed to stop what Engage Texas is doing until the Texas House and Senate’s 2021 session. In the meantime, Turner says, he expects a bevy of groups to take advantage of DPS’ hospitality.

“If this is DPS’ policy, and they say it is, I think it’s going to be a free-for-all out there now that this is well-known,” Turner says.

I approve that message. The DMN and the Texas Signal have more.

Uber’s vision for the future

I feel like this is more wishcasting than real planning. Still, some of it may happen, and if nothing else we should be aware of what it’s all about.

When Uber envisions the future, it not only wants to put urban air taxis and drones in the skies. It also wants to transform how people navigate cities and how they live in them.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the San Francisco-based tech company wants to turn today’s cities that are getting denser and more polluted into “cities of the future that are fundamentally green and built for people.” To do that, he said, cities need transportation options that range from cruising down the street on an electric scooter to commuting through the skies.

“We want not just to be the Amazon of transportation but also the Google of transportation,” he said.

One of the first places Uber wants that to play out is Dallas-Fort Worth: It’s one of the first three markets for Uber Elevate, an initiative to launch the aerial ride-sharing service.

[…]

Uber gave a progress report and made splashy announcements at its third annual Uber Elevate Summit. It announced the first international market for the air service: Melbourne, Australia. It revealed that Uber Eats is working with McDonald’s to deliver Big Macs and fries by drone. It touted the progress of six aviation companies that are designing the aircraft. And it dived into specifics, such as economics, safety and FAA-required certification. It showed off its different modes of transportation, from its new self-driving Volvo SUV to electric scooters.

Through splashy presentations and showroom floor exhibits, Uber and its business partners tried to build the case that urban air taxi service is not a far-fetched idea but one that’s coming to fruition.

Uber went public in May. The tech giant’s growth has been fueled by venture capital, but it is spending billions of dollars and has yet to turn a profit. That hasn’t slowed development of its aerial ride-sharing service. It expects to start flight demonstrations next year and launch commercial service in a few cities, including Dallas, in 2023. Eventually, it wants the urban air taxis to become autonomous.

Mark Moore, Uber’s director of engineering for vehicle systems, said he’s already seen some of the aircraft take flight. He declined to name the companies that are flight testing, saying they’re keeping quiet for competitive reasons.

“It’s incredibly impressive,” he said. “They’re nothing like helicopters.”

We first heard of Uber Elevate back in 2017. They had a goal at that time of rolling out a demo in 2020, so as far as their public pronouncements go, they’re on schedule. There re other operators in this space, one at Texas A&M that is working on flying motorcycles, with a test date of 2020, and a different kind of flying vehicle, based on battery power, that is farther away from reality. Beyond those two, we’ll just have to take Uber at their word that there are other companies testing prototypes now.

The challenges are not just technical.

Moore said the next four years will focus on demonstrations that “prove out the safety, noise and performance” of the vehicles.

In 2023, he said it will launch to paying customers in Dallas — but with a limited number of vehicles and limited operations. He said he expects five aircraft per manufacturer at launch. That will grow to about 50 per manufacturer in 2024. But, he said, some manufacturers may not be ready in time.

In Dallas, the average trip is expected to be 20 to 25 miles, Moore said.

But one of the major questions is whether Uber can win over regulators and the public. Unlike other tech innovations, early adopters won’t just use a new kind of technology. They’ll fly in public, so that affects the people driving, walking or living on the ground below, whether or not they choose to opt in.

[…]

“Uber is obsessed with making these vehicles as quiet as possible,” he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s acting administrator, Dan Elwell, said he’s enthusiastic about urban air taxis but acknowledged that their development gives him more to worry about.

“Everyone is riveted by this, especially me, but then I put on my FAA regulator hat and I got a whole new bucket of stuff to lose sleep over,” he said in a speech at the summit. “What you see is the ideal way to transporting people across cities. When I look at it, I see car-sized vehicles with multiple rotors hanging over dense urban populations.”

All that was discussed in the first Uber Elevate link I posted above. Noise is also a concern – much is done to abate highway noise for residences, but the only way to do that for aerial vehicles is to make the vehicles themselves as quiet as possible. How t ameliorate the “death from above” concerns, well, that’s going to be a key question. All this from a company that burns money faster than 747s burn jet fuel. I’ll keep an eye on this, but don’t be surprised if the next major update is that the timelines have been pushed back.

Lawsuit planned over cable franchise fee bill

I sure hope Houston gets involved in this.

Fort Worth and cities across Texas stand to lose millions of dollars due to a new law that slashes fees telecom providers pay to them. But before the savings go into effect next year, it’s likely cities will challenge the legislation in the courts.

The bill, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month, would slash right-of-way fees telecom providers pay cities to supply cable and phone service. For years, companies paid cities two separate fees to run phone and cable TV lines in right-of-ways — even when delivered over the same line. The bill changes that practice, and allows providers to only pay the higher of the two fees.

Supporters of the bill, like Walt Baum, the president of the Texas Cable Association, said it’s necessary to end an “outdated double tax” on companies. But Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said he thinks the legislation violates sections of the Texas Constitution.

“The use of public land is a privilege, not a right,” Sandlin said. “They could certainly decide to run those wires through people’s backyards, but they would pay a lot more. They have to pay for that rental of public space.“

Fort Worth estimates a little over $4 million will be lost in revenue due to the law, according to a presentation given to the Fort Worth City Council outlining the legislative session’s impact. And in some cities, those losses are more than six times that, with Houston pinning its potential losses at up to $27 million.

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, authored Senate Bill 1152 and chairs the Senate Business and Commerce committee. Since 2006, telecom providers — some who stand to potentially cut costs due to Hancock’s bill — have contributed over $150,000 to Hancock’s campaign, according to the National Institute on Money in Politics.

“I don’t know who saves millions more than the constituents that I work for,” Hancock said about providers paying less.

This wouldn’t be the first time one of Hancock’s bills spurred a lawsuit.

In 2017, a group of over 30 cities filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that a bill authored by Hancock violated articles of the Texas Constitution that prohibit the legislature from directing local municipalities to make gifts or grants to a corporation. The lawsuit, filed in Travis County District Court, is ongoing, and Kevin Pagan, McAllen’s city attorney, said he believes the newly signed legislation violates the same tenets.

Pagan said the new bill wrongly requires cities to make a gift to private companies by allowing providers to use the right-of-way at a lesser charge.

The telecom providers are, “already in the right-of-way. You’re already using our facilities. You’ve already agreed to pay us a franchise fee. And now under this law, you’re just going to stop paying,” Pagan said. “It’s a gift from the state legislature back to those companies.”

See here for the background. I have no idea what the odds of success are for this lawsuit, but as I said up front I sure hope the city of Houston signs on as a co-plaintiff, because we’re definitely taking it in the shorts from this bill. As for the claims from the cable lobbyist that this bill will lead to lower costs for cable subscribers, well, if you think that will happen I’ve got a nice beach house in Abilene to sell you.

The case for a second MLB team in the Metroplex

It’s an interesting argument, with a lot of aspects to it.

[T]he 2019 Street & Smith Baseball Yearbook contains an article (“Where to Next?” by G. Scott Thomas) rating the top 20 metro areas [for potential MLB expansion]. More than 100 reporters and editors filled out a report card (using grades from A to F) for each contender. In ranking order, the results are: Montreal, Portland, Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Vancouver, Raleigh-Durham, Mexico City, Austin, Monterrey, San Juan, New Orleans, Indianapolis, New Jersey (i.e., North Jersey), Havana, Sacramento, Columbus, Orlando, and San Bernardino. I was a bit surprised to see Nashville rank so highly, but otherwise the top 10 more or less line up with the favored locales of other pundits.

One viable metro area is missing from the list, however. That’s might be because it already has one team. I refer here to Dallas-Fort Worth, the Metroplex, or simply North Texas as it is increasingly referred to. Just as the Southern California conurbation eventually evolved into SoCal in popular discourse, North Texas will likely progress to NorTex (admittedly, it sounds like a public utility or a petroleum corporation) in the near future. Remember, you heard it here first.

Now it might seem unfair if not downright bigamous to bestow a second team on a metro area when so many other suitors are out there. On the other hand, such fairness was not a factor when Los Angeles and New York were awarded franchises in the first round of expansion. But a realistic case could be made for those teams then. The same is true for a potential NorTex franchise now.

First of all, did you know that NorTex is the largest market in the US with only one team? Yep, it’s true. One smaller metro area, San Francisco-Oakland (4,728,484 as of 2018) has two teams, though in past years some have opined that is one team too many. If the A’s can’t find a new home in the East Bay, they may be proved right. At any rate, the Bay Area has roughly 2.8 million people fewer than NorTex does, and has had two teams for more than half a century.

NorTex has 7,539,711 people according to a 2018 estimate (way up from 2,424,131 in 1970, two years before the Rangers hit town). That’s good for fourth place in the metro area population sweepstakes. Of course, New York and LA lead the pack and are not within striking distance. But third-place Chicago has “only” 9,498,716 people.

More important, however, are the metropolitan growth rates. NorTex has grown 17.33 percent since the 2010 census. Chicago is virtually stagnant with a growth rate of just 0.4 percent. This is not only much lower than DFW, it is lower than any of the other top 25 metro areas, including such renowned meltdown towns as Detroit and St. Louis. You have to go all the way down to Pittsburgh (No. 27 metro) to find a lower growth rate – in fact a negative rate of -1.34 percent. (The only other major league metro area in the red is Cleveland at -0.97 percent.)

You don’t have to be a math wizard to see that NorTex will likely surpass Chicago for third place within the lifetimes of many if not most of the people reading this article. As Bob Dylan once sang, “You don’t need a weathervane to see which way the wind blows.”

It’s a good read, so check it out. Obviously, MLB has to be in expansion mode for any of this to be a possibility. My guess is that when the expansion to 32 teams comes around, D/FW will not be on the short list, but if and when 36 teams are the target, it will be. How long that may take, I have no idea, but however long it takes I’d bet D/FW will still be in the picture.

May 4 election results

The hottest race was in San Antonio.

With more than 81 percent of the precincts counted, Mayor Ron Nirenberg took a nearly 3-point lead against Councilman Greg Brockhouse, but it likely won’t be enough to avoid a runoff to determine San Antonio’s next mayor.

Nirenberg, who led by two points following early voting pushed his lead to 48.42 percent with Brockhouse garnering 45.82 percent. However, a winning candidate would need to cross the 50 percent threshold to secure victory.

If neither candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held next month.

“Did any of you think it was going to be easy?” Nirenberg said Saturday night to a group of supporters, volunteers and staff assembled at Augie’s. “We’re in for a long night. But guess what, this long night’s because this city deserves it. We will wait here and we will grind away at the progress earning every single vote and rechecked in the politics of division until we walk away winners. Because that’s what this city deserves. This is a city for all.

“This is about the future of San Antonio, it’s not just about one election. And we’re going to win, because this city needs to sustain progress.”

Here are the results. Nirenberg increased his lead over the course of Election Day and was up by a bit more than 3,000 votes. The runoff between the progressive Nirenberg and the not-progressive Brockhouse will be contentious, and important.

In Dallas, State Rep. Eric Johnson led the big field for Mayor.

With 149 of 529 precincts reporting, State Rep. Eric Johnson has 21 percent of the vote, Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs has 17 percent, Lynn McBee has 15 percent, Mike Ablon has 13 percent and Regina Montoya and Miguel Solis have 10 percent.

Nine candidates ran for the open seat.

Mayor Mike Rawlings could not run again due to term limits.

Since no candidate got more than 50 percent of the votes, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates.

That runoff will happen on Saturday, June 8.

Those results are here, and they are more or less the same with 317 of 528 precincts reporting. Johnson is in his fifth term in the Lege and if he wins the runoff he’d vacate his seat, thus causing the fourth legislative special election of the cycle. In this case, it would be after the legislative session, so unless the Lege goes into overtime there would be no absence in Austin.

Elsewhere, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price won again, holding off former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples; those results are here. In races I was following, Nabila Mansoor was headed for a runoff in Sugar Land, collecting 34.22% of the vote to Naushad Kermally’s 39.16%. Steve Halvorson fell short again in Pasadena. The three Pearland ISD candidates also lost.

Congratulations to all the winners, and we’ll look to the runoffs in June.

Early voting for the May elections has begun

From the inbox:

Early Voting for the May 4, 2019 Joint Election starts Monday, April 22 and ends on Tuesday, April 30. During that period, Harris County voters may vote at any of the 25 Early Voting locations designated throughout the county. Polls will be open from 7 am to 7 pm, except for Sunday, April 28, when polls are open from 1 pm to 6 pm. Ballot by mail applicants must submit their applications by April 23.

Launching this election, voters will be able to see the approximate wait time at each polling location. This new Wait Time feature will be available on our website alongside a map of all the Early Voting locations.

“In an effort to make voting easier and more convenient, Early Voting hours have been extended and a Wait Time feature have been added to the website to help voters avoid lines” said Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman. “I encourage all of the nearly 785,000 registered voters that are eligible to cast a ballot in this election to exercise their right to vote.”

The Harris County Clerk’s office will conduct elections for 23 political subdivisions across the county. Voters residing in these political entities can find their individual sample ballots, the Early Voting schedule, and the Election Day polling locations at www.HarrisVotes.com.

An approximate additional 30 political entities in Harris County will also conduct elections on the same day. Voters should communicate directly with political entities conducting their own elections to obtain more information.

For more information about the May 4 Joint Election, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

###

Entities Conducting Elections with Harris County

City of Humble, City of Pasadena, City of South Houston, City of West University Place, Channelview ISD, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Goose Creek Consolidated ISD, Humble ISD, Pasadena ISD, Cypress Klein Utility District, Encanto Real Utility District, Greenwood Utility District, Bridgestone MUD, Crosby MUD, Faulkey Gully MUD, Trail of the Lake MUD, Harris County MUD No. 5, Harris County MUD No. 44, Harris County MUD No. 55, Harris County ESD No. 60, Harris County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1A, Harris County Fresh Water Supply District No. 58, Harris County Water Control and Improvement District No. 109.

You can see what the Wait Time feature looks like here. It’s pretty cool, and something we’ll surely need going forward, though for this election I doubt you’ll see anything but green lights. The City of Pasadena elections are the biggest ones of most interest within Harris County, with the balance of power on Pasadena City Council being up for grabs. See my interview with Steve Halvorson for more on that.

Early voting information for Fort Bend County is here. Fort Bend ISD and the City of Sugar Land, where Nabila Mansoor is running for City Council District 2, are races to watch.

Early voting information for Brazoria County is here. There’s a lot of energy right now for three candidates for Pearland ISD Board of Trustees: Al Lloyd, Dona Murphey, and Joseph Say. If all three win, they’d join Trustee Mike Floyd, elected in 2017, to form a majority on that Board.

Elsewhere, there are Mayor’s races in San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth, none of which I have followed closely. There’s a longer story to write about why we still hold these municipal elections in May of odd-numbered years, but that will wait till another day. For more about the Harris County races, see this Chron story. Is there an election for you to vote in? Leave a comment and let us know.

The Fort Worth Mayor’s race

Worth keeping an eye on.

Deborah Peoples

Mayor Betsy Price has competition.

Democrat Deborah Peoples announced Tuesday night she is running for mayor in Fort Worth.

As Peoples addressed a crowd of several hundred people at 6 p.m., the back room of Angelo’s BBQ slowly became louder and louder. By the time Peoples arrived at the peak of her speech, the room was in an uproar.

“I believe it’s time. Time to stand up for Fort Worth, and time to stand up for each other,” she said to applause. “We have one chance to get this right. And we need a mayor who will stand up for all of us.”

The crowd started to chant, “it’s time” as Peoples continued.

“I am Deborah Peoples and I am running for Mayor of the City of Fort Worth,” she concluded.

Peoples was born in Texas and, 43 years ago, started working in Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission. She said the work taught her the importance of keeping city government accountable to its residents.

Peoples has been the Tarrant County Democratic Party chair since 2013. Before that, she was a vice president for AT&T for 33 years.

“Many people do not feel like leadership listens to them,” Peoples said in an interview. “You have to have vision to be a leader. And I think in Fort Worth, we have been kind of lumbering from crisis to crisis.”

This is a May election, so things are already in full swing. Democrats made a lot of gains in 2018, winning in places they hadn’t won in years. In some ways, Beto O’Rourke carrying Tarrant County was the biggest psychological blow to the Republican identity, because Tarrant had long been the exception among the big urban counties. Winning the Fort Worth Mayor’s race, with the former Chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party against the four-term Republican Mayor, would be another big dent. Price has won four two-year terms, so she’s going to be tough to beat, but this sure seems like a year where it could happen. Daily Kos has more.

Dallas hyperlooping

North Texas takes the lead for this super sexy but possibly vaporware transportation technology.

The Regional Transportation Council announced Wednesday that it will consider the feasibility of a hyperloop as a way to connect Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington. The group is made up of 44 elected and appointed officials that choose funding priorities. It has been in discussions with Virgin Hyperloop One, a Los Angeles-based company that has a test track in Nevada.

“Whatever we build will be around for 100 years, so we need to consider it [a hyperloop system] as we move forward and let the process decide if it’s the best way to move or not,” said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The regional group has been exploring solutions that would speed up trips between Dallas and Fort Worth and boost economic activity. It plans to hire consultants later this year to evaluate hyperloop and high-speed rail and compare them based on a variety of factors, such as noise, vibration and potential ridership. The study, called an environmental impact statement, will cost about $5 million and take two to three years to complete, Morris said.

A hyperloop system that carries passengers isn’t a reality yet — but that hasn’t kept companies and transportation officials from imagining a time when long commutes and trips to a sports arena or a restaurant in another city could take only a few minutes. A computer model by Virgin Hyperloop One estimated that a trip between downtown Dallas and downtown Fort Worth would take about 6 minutes and 20 seconds by hyperloop with passengers cruising at about 360 miles per hour.

[…]

Hyperloop One got a new name and infusion of funding last year from the Virgin Group and its founder Richard Branson. Texas was already on the company’s radar. Last fall, it included a Texas route on its short list of potential hyperloop sites. The proposed route of approximately 640 miles, dubbed the Texas Triangle, would connect Dallas-Fort Worth to Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Laredo. The proposal was submitted by engineering firm AECOM.

Dan Katz, Virgin Hyperloop One’s director of North American projects, said the company began talking to North Texas officials because of the proposal. He said the Dallas-Fort Worth hyperloop route could be the first phase of a larger, statewide project.

See here for some background. As noted, that larger statewide project contains a connection to Houston, but that’s not on the table right now.

A Houston leg from San Antonio remains possible, but company officials said it is not part of the current projects.

[…]

Wednesday’s announcement fulfills part of the plan envisioned when Hyperloop Texas advanced in a global competition to develop the projects. The San Antonio-to-Houston leg left out of the process is among the busiest corridors in the state.

Katz said the company is proceeding based on where officials have shown interest, with North Texas officials promoting both the Dallas-Fort Worth and Fort Worth-to-Laredo lines. Dallas officials toured the company’s Nevada test site earlier this year.

Interest in a direct Dallas-to-Houston hyperloop has lagged, as Texas Central Partners has worked on a high-speed rail line between the metro areas.

Facing huge demands on travel between Texas’ biggest metro areas, however, officials across the state are looking at all options.

“Adding an option like hyperloop to the existing system of roadways, rail transit, bicycle/pedestrian facilities and high-speed rail to Houston would expand the system in an exciting way,” said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. “Connecting other regions in Texas through hyperloop would open up economic opportunities throughout the state.”

Might open up some opportunities for choosing where to live, too. Again, it’s easier to dream on this technology than it is to objectively assess it, but if they’re doing an environmental impact statement we’ll get some of the latter as well. I look forward to seeing what that has to say. The Dallas Observer has more.

Where the anti-vaxxers are

A lot of them are right here.

Four Texas cities, including Houston, rank among the 15 metropolitan “hotspots” of vaccine exemptions, more than any other state, according to a new study.

The study found Austin, Fort Worth and Plano also are among the nation’s cities with the highest number of kindergartners not getting vaccinated for non-medical reasons. Since 2009, the proportion of children opting out of such recommended vaccines increased in Texas and 11 other states, the study showed.

“There are some scary trends we were able to identify,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a Houston vaccine scientist and one of the study authors. “They’re a sign that anti-vaccine groups, such as Texans for Vaccine Choice, have been very successful at lobbying efforts – both of the Texas legislature and through social media and other advocacy — to convince parents not to vaccinate their kids.”

[…]

The overall number of people invoking non-medical exemptions isn’t yet high enough to threaten herd immunity, the idea that vaccination of most of the population provides protection for those individuals without immunity to a contagious disease. But public health officials fear clusters of “anti-vaxxers” could leave some children vulnerable.

Texas’ increasing exemptions have been well documented. Though the number is still small, they have spiked from less than 3,000 in 2003 to more than 45,000 of the state’s roughly 5.5 million schoolchildren today, a 19-fold increase.

Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital said he undertook the study because of the Texas increase. He said wanted to look at whether it was a phenomenon unique to the state or mirrored elsewhere. National vaccination rates haven’t changed much in recent years.

You can see the study here. Dr. Hotez is correct to identify the political problem as being a key aspect to this. One clear pathway to getting more kids vaccinated is to take away or at least tighten up the so-called “conscience” objections to vaccines. If the law says you have to vaccinate your kids, the odds are pretty good that you will. But first you have to pass such a law, and right now we have a legislature that’s not inclined to do that.

NASA to test Uber’s flying cars

Just simulations, thankfully.

NASA will soon begin testing in Dallas how Uber’s on-demand air-taxi concept would affect crowded areas.

Uber is in the midst of designing an air-taxi service, called UberAIR. Officials hope to conduct flight demonstrations starting in 2020 and start operating commercially in Dallas and Los Angeles by 2023.

And on Tuesday, NASA announced that it would help the company “ensure a safe and efficient system for future air transportation in populated areas.”

“NASA is excited to be partnering with Uber and others in the community to identify the key challenges facing the [urban air mobility] market, and explore necessary research, development and testing requirements to address those challenges,” Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, said in a statement. “Urban air mobility could revolutionize the way people and cargo move in our cities and fundamentally change our lifestyle much like smartphones have.”

Under this agreement, Uber will provide NASA with its plans for implementing this cutting-edge ride-share network and NASA will use computer modeling and simulations to determine the impact of this kind of aircraft. The simulations will take place at NASA’s research facility at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

NASA personnel will analyze safety issues that could arise from small passenger-carrying aircraft flying through the airport’s airspace during “peak scheduled air traffic,” according to the space agency.

See here for the background. There are still a lot of issues to be worked out, and there’s no real reason to think any of this is practical. But hey, we were promised flying cars, so onward we go. I just hope they remember to simulate a few falling-debris scenarios, because I’m pretty sure we’re going to need to know what to do with them.

Time for an update on that other high speed rail line

It’s been awhile.

TexasOklahomaPassengerRailStudyRoutes

Backers continue to move along on plans to build a bullet-train route between Dallas and Houston, but it’s not the only high-speed passenger rail project on Texas drawing boards.

With a proposal to run between cities such as Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo, the project recently got a green light for new money to do further study.

“We’re still an embryo,” said Kevin Feldt, a North Central Texas Council of Governments program manager overseeing the high-speed rail project regionally. “We’re still in the first week or two of pregnancy.”

Nobody has begun buying right of way or buying trains, let alone figured out funding and finance — topics that can fire skepticism about the passenger rail’s ability to break even or turn a profit — but there’s now an environmental impact statement, and potential investors have come calling.

“Suffice it to say, there’s interest in developing (from) Fort Worth southward, possibly to Monterrey, Mexico,” Feldt said. “We’ve had the French and Chinese and Spanish come to us and meet with us to talk about it.

“Some wanted to do one piece; we had others who wanted to do everything.”

The proposed line from North Texas cities — Dallas and Arlington included — is part of an 850-mile project called the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Program Corridor.

[…]

Feldt said that whatever comes out of the next round of study, actually building a high-speed passenger rail — not to mention a Hyperloop system — will be “a lot more complex” than the challenges the private company working to roll out the Dallas/Houston passenger train has encountered.

The Dallas/Houston corridor is not only flatter and easier to run a high-speed train across, but less populous.

Still, like Feldt, Bill Meadows, who chairs the Commission for High Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region, noted the interest from Chinese and French rail representatives in discussing a public-private project here.

And, said Meadows, “They like the (Interstate) 35 corridor better than the (Interstate) 45 corridor.”

See here for the last update that I have, from July of 2016. Since then, the Draft Environmental Study has been completed, which “formally identifies seven Selected Alternatives that will serve as the framework for future investment in new and improved conventional and high-speed passenger rail service in three regions between Oklahoma City and South Texas”. The story also mentions the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, for which Texas remains in contention, though it’s not clear to me from the story how it fits in here. There’s lots of other obstacles that will need to be cleared for anything tangible to happen here, from choosing a single route to putting together financing and governance, to overcoming the inevitable political opposition. But things continue to move, and at this stage that’s about all you can ask for.

Abbott versus the cities

The continuing story.

If Gov. Greg Abbott has disdain for how local Texas officials govern their cities, it didn’t show in a Wednesday sit-down with three mayors who were among 18 who jointly requested a meeting to discuss legislation that aims to limit or override several municipal powers.

“Whether we changed anybody’s mind or not, you never know,” said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough. “But I will say it was a healthy conversation.”

What also remained to be seen Wednesday: whether Abbott plans to meet with mayors from the state’s five largest cities — who were also among those who requested to meet with the governor. So far, Abbott hasn’t responded to the requests from the mayors of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

[…]

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Wednesday that when he was a member of the Texas House, Republican lawmakers repeatedly complained about government growing and overstepping its bounds.

“And now we find that the state government is really reaching down and telling local governments what they can or cannot do and pretty much trying to treat all cities as if we are all the same,” Turner said.

During invited testimony to the House Urban Affairs committee on Tuesday, several city officials and at least one lawmaker denounced what they said were overreaching and undemocratic attempts to subvert local governance.

“If people don’t like what you’re doing, then there are things called elections. I don’t see it as our job to overreach and try to govern your city,” said State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg testified that it felt like the state was waging a war on Texas cities.

“The fundamental truth about the whole debate over local control is that taking authority away from cities — preventing us from carrying out the wishes of our constituents — is subverting the will of the voter,” Nirenberg said.

At Wednesday’s meeting with Abbott, Yarbrough said he and his counterparts from Corpus Christi and San Marcos told the governor that local officials have a better finger on the pulse of city residents’ expectations and demands.

“We wanted to make sure we preserved the ability for local municipalities to be able to adjust and react to the needs of their community,” he said.

See here for some background. It’s mighty nice of Abbott to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule of threatening legislators to meet with these concerned constituents, but they shouldn’t have had to take time out of their busy schedules to try to persuade the Governor to leave over a century of accepted governance in place and butt out of their business. And not for nothing, but the cities whose Mayors Abbott has been ignoring are the reason he can make elaborate claims about how awesome the Texas economy is.

Let’s begin with population. The five counties that contain the state’s five largest cities have a combined 12,309,787 residents, which is 44 percent of the state’s total. If you want to talk about elections, the registered voters in those counties make up 42 percent of Texas’ electorate.

Those counties out-perform the rest of the state economically. Texas’ five biggest urban counties constitute 53.5 percent of total Texas employment. If you broaden it out to the metropolitan statistical areas, which include the suburbs as well, the proportion becomes 75.8 percent — and growth in those regions has outpaced growth in the state overall since the recession.

Not convinced Texas’ cities drive the state? Let’s look at gross domestic product: The state’s five biggest MSAs contribute 71 percent of the state’s economic output, a proportion that has increased by two percentage points over the past decade. Focusing just on counties again, workers in the ones that contain Texas’ largest cities earn 60 percent of the state’s wages.

If you look at the embedded chart in that story, you’ll see that the metro area that is doing the best economically is the Austin-Round Rock MSA, and it’s not close. It’s even more impressive when you take into account how busy the city of Austin has been systematically destroying Texas with its regulations and liberalness and what have you.

As I said in my previous post on this subject, quite a few of the Mayors that are pleading with Abbott to back off are themselves Republicans, and represent Republican turf. It’s good that they are trying to talk some sense into him, but I’d advise them to temper their expectations. Abbott and Dan Patrick and a squadron of Republican legislators, especially in the Senate, don’t seem to have any interest in listening. The one thing that will get their attention is losing some elections. What action do these Mayors plan to take next year when they will have a chance to deliver that message?

Mayors to Abbott: Don’t mess with our cities

Good luck getting through.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

What about Fort Worth?

Now that Houston has voted to join the litigation against SB4, there remains one big city on the sidelines.

Holding signs that said, “No hate in my Texas” and “Diversity not division,” protesters on Tuesday urged city leaders to join a lawsuit seeking to have Texas’ so-called sanctuary cities law declared unconstitutional.

Members of the newly formed United Fort Worth want the Fort Worth City Council to join legal challenges to Senate Bill 4 — a measure that when it takes effect Sept. 1 will allow police to question people’s immigration status during traffic stops.

The grassroots group, formed three weeks ago by four young adults, held a press conference Tuesday at City Hall to highlight how they believe SB 4 will impact immigrants and other sectors of the Fort Worth community.

United Fort Worth includes advocacy groups such as Faith in Fort Worth, Indivisible FWTX, the North Texas Dream Team, Casa del Inmigrante and others to give voices to those who have not been heard, said Daniel Garcia Rodriguez, 22, one of United Fort Worth’s founders.

The city is approaching one million residents but has not focused on the social issues that confront it, Rodriguez contended.

“We have a lot of new people here,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully, this coalition will help us share ideas with the city and together we can find a way to implement positive change.”

That includes persuading the city to join a lawsuit originally filed by the South Texas city of El Cenizo. San Antonio, Dallas and Austin are also challenging the constitutionality of SB 4.

“There are several large cities and small cities that have joined the lawsuit,” said Anita Quinones, an activist with Indivisible FWTX. “In the meantime, Fort Worth has been pretty quiet. There is opposition to Senate Bill 4 … in the community.”

Austin, El Paso, San Antonio, and Dallas were there more or less from the beginning. Houston took a little longer – there’s no question that everything else was on pause until pension reform was completed – but it was always going to get there. Fort Worth, which has a Republican Mayor and some progressive policies, including one of the longest-standing non-discrimination ordinances in the state, is more of a cipher. No elected officials from the city were quoted in the story, which may mean the author didn’t focus on them or maybe that no one in Fort Worth city government is talking about this yet. The activists have the right idea in getting organized and making this a priority for them. The first step is to get the attention of Mayor Betsy Price and the Fort Worth City Council, and to get them to engage on the issue. I wish them all the best.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a flying car!

Seriously.

Uber is looking to North Texas as a testing ground for its initiative to make intra-urban flying vehicle rides a reality. The company announced Tuesday that Dallas and Fort Worth are its first U.S. partner cities for what its dubbing the “Uber Elevate Network.”

The company hopes to have the first demonstration of how such a network of flying, hailed vehicles would work in three years.

Uber is also working with Dallas’ Hillwood Properties to plan vertiports, sites where the aircraft would pick up and drop off passengers. Fort Worth’s Bell Helicopter is among companies partnering with Uber to help develop the actual vehicles, called VTOLs because they would vertically take off and land.

The announcement was made at a three-day Uber Elevate Summit being held in Dallas.

“This is an opportunity for our city to show leaders from around the world and across industries why Dallas should be a part of building a better future for urban mobility,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a prepared statement.

[…]

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Bell is developing propulsion technology to build electric airborne vehicles “that are quieter than the usual helicopter.”

“It’s not going to happen right away, tomorrow, but the technology is definitely there,” Bell chief executive Mitch Snyder told the newspaper. “We definitely believe the hybrid electric is something we could go make and fly right now. But I think full electric, to give it the range and everything you want out of it, is not quite there.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said in a prepared statement that she is “thrilled” her city is part of the Elevate initiative.

“Being in the North Texas region, which encourages innovation and responsible businesses to thrive, we trust that this will be a beneficial choice for the development of the Elevate project,” she said.

Fast Company reported that Uber is portraying Elevate as “a cheap alternative to building new roads and expanding public transit” but noted that Rawlings maintains Dallas has to provide as many transportation options as possible.

“Anytime there’s innovation in the marketplace, I don’t think anybody truly knows the results of these things, or the costs,” Rawlings told Fast Company. “We’ve got to be multimodal — there’s no question — in this city.”

Well, that’s one way to avoid traffic, I suppose. Someone should call up Avery Brooks and tell him his question may soon be getting an answer. Uber has a former NASA engineer working on this idea, for which they released a white paper last October, and they say they hope to have it off the ground (as it were) by 2020. How likely is that? Wired asked the same question.

If that sounds ambitious, you possess a basic understanding of the challenges involved here. The kind of aircraft Uber envisions shuttling customers through the air—electric, with vertical takeoff and landing capability, and capable of flying 100 miles in just 40 minutes—don’t exist yet. Nor does the infrastructure to support them. The FAA, an agency not known for speed, must ensure these aircraft meet all federal safety regulations and figure out where and how they fit into a complex air traffic control system.

Instead of cracking those problems on its own, Uber plans to punt. It hopes to play the role of a catalyst, spurring manufacturers to build the aircraft, the FAA to figure out the regulations, and cities to wave them in. Company CEO Travis Kalanick apparently wants to play the role of Elon Musk, who came up with the idea for hyperloop and is letting everyone else figure out how to make it work. The reward for playing Kalanick’s game? Accessing Uber’s 55 million monthly active riders in nearly 600 cities worldwide.

And here’s the crazy part: Uber could make it happen. “I think 2020 is realistic for a vehicle that is not replacing an airplane but replacing a car,” says Richard Pat Anderson, director of the Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A purely electric aircraft might remain elusive, but a serial hybrid setup—where the aircraft carries a fuel-burning turbine to keep the juice flowing, much like the Chevrolet Volt—could work.

Which is not to say there aren’t other obstacles.

“If there are flying cars, then well obviously you have added this additional dimension where a car could potentially fall on your head and would be susceptible to weather,” [Tesla CEO] Musk said. “And of course you’d have to have a flying car [that operates by] autopilot because otherwise, forget it.”

Think weaving through traffic on a busy day is frustrating? Try adding an entirely new dimension to the mix. “Essentially with a flying car you’re talking about going 3-D,” Musk says. “There’s a fundamental flaw with cities where you’ve got dense office buildings and apartment buildings and duplexes, and they’re operating on three dimensions, but then you go to the street, and suddenly they’re two-dimensional.”

Getting your 3-D driving license from the DMV isn’t the only challenge a future of flying cars would have to overcome, Musk added. While Tesla has announced an update that promises to ease drivers’ “range anxiety,” seeing a flashing empty light while your car is in midair might cause more of a range heart attack. And just imagine being one of the poor street-bound souls if two-ton automobiles start falling out of the sky.

“Even in autopilot, and even if you’ve got redundant motors and blades, you’ve still gone from near-zero chance of something falling on your head to something greater than that,” Musk said.

So good luck with that, Dallas. I guess we may soon find out what a few billion dollars in venture capital and an utter disregard for the rule of law or the norms of society can do. The Verge and the Dallas Observer have more.

As goes Tarrant

The Trib ponders the one big urban county that is not like the others.

Among the state’s five biggest counties, Tarrant is the only one that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. The 2016 presidential election heightened Tarrant’s status as an outlier. Even as the rest of the state’s big-city territories moved deeper into the Democratic column, Tarrant steadfastly emerged as America’s most conservative large urban county.

President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office this week, won the county by an 8.6-point margin. It was the narrowest win for a GOP presidential nominee in decades in Tarrant. But among the country’s 20 largest counties, Tarrant was only one of two that swung Trump’s way in November — and it had the wider margin.

Across Tarrant County, Democratic pockets are fewer and less powerful than their Republican counterparts. All four of the state senate districts that fall in Tarrant County are represented by Republicans. The GOP also holds eight of the county’s 11 state House seats. Four of the five county commissioner court seats are held by Republicans.

Residents, elected officials and experts here point to a nuanced union of demographic, cultural and political forces to explain why.

“There’s just all kinds of interesting numbers out there that make Tarrant County a lot different,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the only Democrat holding one of the county’s five congressional seats.

Tarrant’s minority population, which tends to lean Democratic, hasn’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties. At the same time, many Tarrant voters have a storied history of preferring practical governance to partisanship, according to officials and political observers. They say that helps support the moderate faction of the GOP, especially in Fort Worth, the nation’s 16th-largest city.

Then there’s the county’s development pattern. A lot of Tarrant remains rural. And, unlike Harris, Dallas and Travis counties, many of Tarrant’s affluent suburbs and conservative bedroom communities lie within its borders, not outside them. That’s helped give rise to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, a passionate and organized group that simultaneously supports far-right local candidates and serves as a powerful base for statewide Republicans.

[…]

Part of what has helped Tarrant become the state’s lone Republican urban county is that its minority populations, which largely and traditionally tend to lean Democratic, haven’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties.

White residents’ share of the Tarrant population is falling, but it hasn’t declined as quickly as it has in Harris, Dallas, Travis and Bexar, said state demographer Lloyd Potter. The county’s Hispanic population is growing quickly, but it still lags behind the other big counties in terms of raw numbers, Potter added.

But that’s likely to change.

While Tarrant remains more white than Texas as a whole, it’s experienced a more significant drop in its share of white residents in the past 10 years compared to the state. In 2015, the county’s white population dropped to 48.5 percent — down from 56.4 percent in 2005.

Whites’ falling numbers in the county aren’t limited to its urban core in Fort Worth. In fact, the white population experienced a bigger drop in its share of the population in the suburbs from 2005 to 2015.

Here’s a fun fact, which I believe I have mentioned before: Tarrant County is a really good predictor of the overall Presidential race result in Texas. Witness the past four elections:

2004

Statewide – Bush 61.09%, Kerry 38.22%
Tarrant – Bush 62.39%, Kerry 37.01%

2008

Statewide – McCain 55.45%, Obama 43.68%
Tarrant – McCain 55.43%, Obama 43.43%

2012

Statewide – Romney 57.17%, Obama 41.38%
Tarrant – Romney 57.12%, Obama 41.43%

2016

Statewide – Trump 52.23%, Clinton 43.24%
Tarrant – Trump 51.74%, Clinton 43.14%

Almost spooky, isn’t it? One perfectly rational answer to the question “when will Texas turn blue?” is “when Tarrant County also turns blue”.

Anyway. The article is correct that Tarrant differs from the other big urban counties in that it’s actually a lot less urban than they are. Much of Tarrant is suburban, even rural, and that’s just not the case in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis. Tarrant’s demographics are changing, as the story notes, but I have no idea if there’s anything to suggest its demographics are changing any faster than the state’s are. The statewide judicial races and the one contested district court race were all in the 13-16 point range, which is consistent with the statewide results. I wish I could say I saw something to suggest change was coming faster, but at least in the numbers, I can’t. Maybe someone who is more familiar with the county can chime in.

Having said all this, one big opportunity in 2018 is in Tarrant, and that’s SD10, the Senate seat formerly held by Wendy Davis. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, freshman Sen. Konni Burton only won by nine points, with 52.83% of the vote. If 2018 is a less hostile year, this is a winnable race, and as I’ve said before, any competitive Senate race is a big deal. Whatever we can do to hasten change in Tarrant County, 2018 would be a good time to do it.

Fort Worth updates its transgender bathroom policy

Everyone declares victory.

The new guidelines, condensed to two pages, affirm transgender students’ right to accommodations but eliminate a portion of the April guidelines that told schools not to out transgender students to their parents out of concern for their safety.

The new guidelines require parents to be involved with students and administrators in developing a “student individual support plan,” including provisions for bathroom use. Clint Bond, a spokesman for Fort Worth ISD, said the change was insignificant.

“In essence, there’s no change from the original guidelines issued on April 19 compared with the ones issued today,” Bond said. “The wording is a little bit different. We always intended to involve parents in the decision.”

[AG Ken] Paxton seemed to disagree in a Wednesday morning press release cheering the new guidelines, which he said brought Fort Worth in line with the opinion he issued on June 28. Paxton concluded in his opinion that state law did not allow schools to conceal transgender students’ gender identity from their parents.

Jacinto Ramos, president of the Fort Worth school board, called Paxton’s opinion a “good road map” to the revised guidelines. He emphasized that the changes reflected input from parents, students and community members. The district held six town hall forums, and appointed 45 parents, teachers, and community leaders to a Student Safety Advisory Council that met five times.

Ramos said that the guidelines are meant to be comprehensive, and not just address which bathrooms transgender students use.

“The original guidelines were written with every intention to protect all children, and obviously it got twisted up into a so-called bathroom policy, which couldn’t have been further from the truth,” Ramos said.

See here and here for some background. If the policy was amended to conform to the recent AG opinion on the matter, then indeed that represents a small change. The story quotes Lou Weaver of Equality Texas giving approval to the new policy, though I have not seen a statement on EQTX’s Facebook page about this, which strikes me as a bit odd. Whatever, if this previously-expected modification satisfies the pottylust of the Dan Patrick crowd, then huzzah and hallelujah, let us please turn our attention to actual problems. I doubt it really will satisfy their lust because nothing ever does, but I’m hoping for the best.

Alignments proposed for Oklahoma City-South Texas passenger rail

Check ’em out.

TexasOklahomaPassengerRailStudyRoutes

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) have released 10 service and route options for new and improved conventional and high-speed passenger rail service connecting Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas.  The options are evaluated in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

“This corridor is home to major financial, energy, and education centers that people rely on every day,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “Providing efficient, more reliable, and faster higher-speed passenger rail options to move between cities is crucial for the economy and the population to thrive.  I encourage those along the I-35 corridor to participate in the comment and public hearing opportunities so that they are able to learn more and share their input.”

During a 45-day public comment period, FRA and TxDOT will take comments on the 10 options and the seven recommended preferred options that the two agencies identified.  Four public hearings will also be held to give residents a chance to learn about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study, understand how their communities may be affected, and provide comments.

Current passenger rail service along the Interstate 35 (I-35) corridor includes three intercity Amtrak services from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth (Heartland Flyer), Fort Worth to San Antonio (Texas Eagle), and Los Angeles to New Orleans through San Antonio (Sunset Limited).

The DEIS addresses the relationships of the major regional markets within the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Program corridor in three geographic sections, and preferred alternatives are recommended for each geographic section separately.  The three sections of study are:

  • Northern Section:  Edmond, Oklahoma, to Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas
  • Central Section:  Dallas and Fort Worth to San Antonio
  • Southern Section:  San Antonio to south Texas (Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley)

More than 10 million people currently live along the 850-mile corridor, which is expected to grow by 39 percent in Texas and 25 percent in Oklahoma City by 2035.  As a state with some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, spread out over hundreds of miles, Texas is now in high demand for alternative modes of transportation.  Since the majority of the state’s population is centered in the eastern half of state, along I-35 stretching into Oklahoma City, the highways have experienced increased congestion.

“More passenger rail service will help relieve already congested roads along the I-35 corridor and help this region manage the significant population growth on the way,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.  “I encourage everyone to provide feedback on the 10 options that FRA and the Texas DOT have presented to continue moving this effort forward.”

In fiscal year 2012, FRA awarded a $5.6 million grant to TxDOT to fund a study of new and improved passenger rail service to meet future intercity travel demand, improve rail facilities, reduce travel times, and improve connections with regional public transit services as an alternative to bus, plane, and private auto travel.  The Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study evaluates routes and types of service for passenger rail service between Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas.

More information about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study can be found here.  The Final EIS is projected to be released by early 2017.

There are three public hearings scheduled to discuss these alignments, on August 9, 10, and 11, in Laredo, Austin, and Arlington, respectively. Relevant documentation is here if you have a few hours to spare and an enjoyment of poring over PDFs, while TxDOT’s page on the project is here. Just looking at the map, which I have embedded above, doesn’t give a clear picture of where the tracks would be. Streetsblog says it wouldn’t actually stop in “urban Austin”, but the map seems to indicate it would go near or by the airport, so perhaps this is a question of terminology.

This project has been kicking around for awhile – Oklahoma got a federal stimulus grant in 2009 to study rail between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, which isn’t actually part of this proposal but may have been the genesis of what we now have – with TxDOT creating the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study page in late 2013; as you can see at that link, there’s a separate project to link this rail line, if it happens, to the Houston-Dallas high speed line, if that happens. An extension into Mexico has also been floated, though I have no idea if we’re even allowed to say that sort of thing out loud any more. As this is a TxDOT project, one presumes that there won’t be any questions about whether or not this qualifies as a real railroad for eminent domain purposes, which is not to say that there won’t be any resistance to the possibility. I’m never sure how seriously to take this, as TxDOT has never been all that interested in anything but roads and there are plenty of ways for the chuckleheads in Congress and the Lege to put up obstacles, but we are at the DEIS stage, and that’s progress. What do you think? See here for the impact statement, and KVUE has more.

Ken Paxton does not approve of transgender bathroom policies

Big surprise, right?

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday issued an opinion saying the Fort Worth school superintendent who made headlines for formulating guidelines to accommodate transgender students exceeded his authority. Paxton also said that a portion of the guidelines instructing district employees not to out transgender students to their parents might violate state law.

Citing a part of the Texas education code, Paxton wrote that school district boards of trustees — not superintendents — are required to adopt policies while superintendents can only implement those policies “by developing administrative regulations.”

Attorney general opinions are not legally binding, and Paxton’s interpretation has no direct legal impact on the Fort Worth district.

[…]

The district has indicated that the board of trustees was not asked to vote on the policy because it is an “administrative guideline” — a policy that superintendents can implement without official board approval — that stemmed from a non-discrimination policy updated in 2011.

To ensure privacy of students, particularly in cases when the student has not disclosed gender identity status to a parent or guardian, Fort Worth ISD’s guidelines include a protection of privacy for transgender students, directing school personnel to only share information about the student’s gender identity and expression on a “need-to-know basis or as the student directs.”

In his opinion, Paxton indicated that portion of the guidelines violates state law to the extent that they “limit parental access to information about their child and operate to encourage students to withhold information from parents.” Policies dealing with “parental involvement with students’ gender identity choices” must be “addressed” by the school board before they are implemented, he said. He added that the guidelines “relegate parents to a subordinate status.”

In response to Paxton’s opinion, a spokesman for Fort Worth ISD said the district’s legal counsel was reviewing the opinion. “She will advise the superintendent as appropriate,” he added.

Scribner has stood by the guidelines and confirmed he will stay in his post. School board trustees have reiterated that they were in the loop on the policy change, with at least two saying they were surprised the issue had escalated.

Paxton was asked for this opinion by Dan Patrick, whose obsession with bathrooms is well established. I didn’t have a chance to read this opinion – which as we all know does not carry the force of law – when it first came out, but then thankfully John Wright spared me the need.

But nowhere in his nonbinding opinion does Paxton address the question of restroom use, and a closer review of the document reveals Patrick’s “victory” to be mostly hollow.

In the opinion, Paxton wrote that the guidelines violate state law by limiting when school officials can disclose a student’s gender identity to parents. However, FWISD representatives have already stated — in a brief to Paxton’s office cited in a footnote of the opinion — that they plan to revise the parental notification provisions to bring them into line with the Education Code.

David Mack Henderson, president of LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth, said Tuesday he expects those changes “will render General Paxton’s unenforceable opinion moot.”

Even before Patrick and other Republican lawmakers stormed into Fort Worth in April to call for Scribner’s resignation over the guidelines, school board Trustee Matthew Avila told the Observer that officials were likely to tweak the parental notification provisions, which LGBT advocates agree are on shaky legal ground.

“Generally, parents have a right to access their children’s information and control their upbringing,” Lambda Legal senior counsel Ken Upton said.

FWISD’s brief to Paxton’s office lists exceptions to this rule, including for child abuse investigations, and notes that a 2002 AG’s opinion determined there are “very narrow and unusual circumstances” in which student information can be withheld from parents. FWISD’s brief states that “absent such circumstances, District personnel involve parents in all student matters, including gender identity issues.”

With regard to a second question posed by Patrick, Paxton found that Scribner violated the Education Code by implementing the Transgender Guidelines without a vote from the school board — but only in the context of the parental notification provisions, which account for roughly four paragraphs of the eight-page document.

“While a superintendent is authorized to recommend policies to be adopted by the board, chapter 11 requires that policy decisions, like those addressing parental involvement with students’ gender identity choices, be addressed by the board of trustees prior to the development of any related administrative regulations,” Paxton wrote.

FWISD officials have said Scribner acted within his authority to implement the guidelines because they are an extension of the district’s 2012 nondiscrimination policy, which includes gender identity. The Education Code gives superintendents the authority to “ensure the implementation of the policies created by the board.”

So there’s less to this than meets the eye. Mostly, it’s an invitation for someone who has a kid in FWISD to file a lawsuit, much as Paxton has filed a lawsuit against the feds over their advisory on bathroom access. I firmly believe that in the end forces of darkness and cowardice like Paxton and Patrick will lose, but it will not be quick or easy getting there. There will be setbacks, and people will be hurt along the way. The only message these guys will ever comprehend is at the ballot box. Trail Blazers, Texas Monthly, and the Current have more.

Patrick doubles down on potty politics

It’s potties all the way down.

Dan Patrick is threatening their children

Declaring that “this fight is just beginning,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday escalated his battle against guidelines in Texas and across the country that allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Speaking to reporters at the Texas Capitol, Patrick announced a number of new moves in the offensive, including a request for an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on whether the Fort Worth Independent School District broke the law when it adapted such guidelines last month. Patrick also said he was sending a letter to all Texas school districts advising them to ignore a similar directive issued this month by the federal government.

Throughout his remarks, Patrick suggested that state lawmakers would have to step in if Fort Worth ISD did not reconsider its actions. He also repeatedly pushed back on the idea that he is intruding on a local matter, saying it is “this superintendent and school board that is prohibiting local control.”

“When we have a rogue, runaway superintendent and a rogue, runaway school board, then the Legislature this coming-up session is going to have to look at this issue because the law is clear,” Patrick told reporters. “So what do parents do when the superintendent and the school board ignores them? When the superintendent and school board breaks the law, if that’s the case? The parents are going to look to us.”

Patrick’s request for an AG opinion is here. His attempt to denigrate and delegitimize duly elected officials who had the nerve to take a completely legal action that he disagreed with is despicable, but par for the course for an authoritarian like himself. I’m hardly the gatekeeper for what it means to be “conservative”, but I am old enough to recall a time when those who called themselves “conservative” would not have dreamed of butting in on local decision-making in which they had no direct stake like that. It’s not the disagreement that’s at issue here, nor even the heavyhanded threats to overrule the school board’s (again, perfectly legal and entirely consistent with the principles of treating all students equally) actions via the Legislature, which as we know with the federal government is something that can be and is done at that level. It’s the irresponsible use of epithets like “rogue” and “runaway” that tries to cast perfectly mundane actions by local officials in a sinister lights. Putting aside any other consideration here, that’s shameful behavior on Patrick’s part, though as we know completely of a piece. The only legitimate government to Dan Patrick – and Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton – is government that does only and exactly things he agrees with. It’s his way or the threats and recriminations and lawsuits begin.

But of course that isn’t the only consideration. There are many students in Texas public schools who are directly affected not just by inclusive and appropriate policies regarding bathroom usage, but also by the fearmongering and demagoguery being espoused by the likes of Dan Patrick. The most charitable explanation I can think of is that Patrick just simply doesn’t have any understanding of what it means to be transgender. Lord knows, there’s plenty of misinformation and misrepresentation out there (much of it coming from people like Dan Patrick, but let’s put that aside for now). Fortunately, we live in a time when parents of transgender children have begun to speak out in support of their kids and in response to the ignorance and fear of the likes of Dan Patrick. Equality Texas presented four such parents, and you really need to read and understand what they had to say to our Lite Governor.

Meet Kimberly Shappley. She is a Houston area mom and the mother of a transgender child, who was born a boy named Joseph Paul, and who identifies as her daughter, Kai. Kai is five years old.

“From my earliest memories, I noticed the nature and temperament of this child was more similar to my daughter than to my sons. Around age two, a family member asked me if my child was gay because of her flamboyantly feminine mannerisms and love for all things girly. I asked our daycare to put away all girly toys. When my child consistently and persistently insisted “I am a girl”, the adults in her life would get down on her level and look her in the eyes and firmly tell her, “no. you are a boy.” My child went into depression. It is very difficult to witness depression in a formerly joyful toddler. Haircuts became a nightmare of horror movie screams of, “Stop. Stop. Please don’t mommy. Please don’t let them cut my hair.” But I was adamant this child was going to have a flattop. This child would never get a single toy that she wanted, nor the birthday party theme she asked for. My sweet child began praying for Joseph to go to Heaven and live with Jesus. Kai was begging the Lord to let her die. Moments like these helped me to realize transition was necessary. I didn’t know how to do it. I just knew I needed to help my child,” said Kimberly Shappley, mom of a transgender child from Pearland.

“We are private people. We are lifelong Republicans, we are Christian. We are a Houston family who only want to protect our daughter and live quietly. We did not want to speak out publicly, but the lt. governor has forced us out of our private lives and into the public arena to protect our daughter. This is the face of a transgender child in Texas. I want Texans to look at my little girl’s photo. Do we as a state really want to force her to go into the boy’s bathroom? Why are we targeting innocent children for political games? The Superintendent of the Pearland school district, who is listening to the direction of the lt. governor and attorney general, wants to force my little girl into the boy’s bathroom. My number one job in life is “a mom” and I am speaking out today to protect my little girl,” said Shappley. “I urge Lt. Governor Patrick and other leaders to sit down with me and families like mine and educate themselves about transgender children.”

Here’s more from the Chronicle:

“I’m here to tell Dan Patrick – you specifically – you are endangering my child’s life because you have now told everyone in the state of Texas that it’s OK to harass my child, it’s OK for the school district to stop supporting him. And I want you to know my child has had no issues with his school,” said Ann Elder of Friendswood, holding a picture of her transgender son in short brown hair and a blue flannel shirt. “They have been supportive. He goes to the boy’s bathroom. Everything is perfectly fine.”

What do you have to say to that, Dan Patrick? You admitted to the Austin Chronicle that you didn’t know any transgender people on a “personal basis”. Will you take the time to meet these parents and their children, and try to understand their perspective? Or will you continue to pretend that they are something less than human and thus endanger their safety? It’s your choice to make. That choice will show us what kind of person you are. Trail Blazers, the StarTelegram, the Press, the Current, and Think Progress, which notes that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to do an en banc review of its earlier ruling upholding the Obama directive on transgender bathroom access in a case involving a school in Virginia, have more.

Dan Patrick is obsessed with children’s bathrooms

This guy, I swear.

Transgender advocates derided Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday for what they described as his “fake outrage” over the Fort Worth school district’s new transgender bathroom guidelines, calling the Republican a shameless bully.

“A bully like Dan Patrick can’t go unchallenged. He is wrong,” said Joel Burns, an openly gay former Fort Worth councilman. “He’s here to do harm for his own political gain.”

Burns, also an anti-bullying advocate, spoke during a news conference ahead of one Patrick scheduled in advance of a Forth Worth school board meeting, where the new guidelines are not on the agenda but are expected to come up during public comment.

“There is no news here,” said Steve Rudner, chairman of Equality Texas, who joined Burns at the news conference. “The only news here is that the lieutenant governor has decided to pick on an already bullied group of kids. It’s shameful and it’s despicable.”

The Fort Worth Independent School District superintendent said earlier Tuesday he will not heed Patrick’s request for his resignation over the district’s bathroom guidelines for transgender students.

Patrick on Monday called for Superintendent Kent Scribner to resign over a policy the superintendent announced last month that directs district employees to “acknowledge the gender identity that each student consistently and uniformly asserts,” allowing them to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

“I’m proud of these guidelines,’’ Scribner told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board Tuesday. “I think they provide educators with the ability to make all students more comfortable and confident in a learning environment.”

Patrick said the policy puts students in danger and Scribner should not have acted without “any discussion with parents, board members, principals, and other community leaders.”

“Campus safety should be of paramount concern for anyone in his position,” Patrick said in a statement Monday. “Every parent, especially those of young girls, should be outraged.”

Well, speaking as father of young girls, I’d say they have far more to fear from the Baylor football team than from any trans women or girls who might be sharing the ladies’ room with them. I can’t decide if Patrick is too willfully ignorant of the facts to understand that what he claims to fear is just not possible, or if he’s just cynically exploiting that fear in everyone else who’s ignorant. What I do know is that it’s ultimately the business community, against whose interests Patrick continues to work, that will have to stop him. I wish I could say I were optimistic about this, but alas, they have shown no capability to grasp this as yet. In the meantime, compare and contrast Dan Patrick with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. To whom will history be kind, and who will be seen as this generation’s Bull Connor? Texas Monthly and the Austin Chronicle have more.

Recycling officially re-upped

That new recycling agreement with Waste Management was on Council’s agenda yesterday. Here’s a reminder of what it was about.

Originally, Houston was to ink a four-year deal with Waste Management, paying a $95-per-ton processing fee, a nearly 50 percent price hike. [Mayor] Turner, hoping the market would rebound quickly and strengthen the city’s negotiating position, countered with a one-year deal at a higher processing fee, but Waste Management rejected that.

The deal facing a vote Wednesday is a two-year agreement that omits glass, which is more costly to process and comparatively less valuable to resell, and carries a $90-per-ton processing fee.

Compared to what other Texas cities pay, that figure – and even the $65-per-ton processing fee Houston paid under its expiring contract – is an outlier.

San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth all pay their recycling contractors about $35 per ton to process recycled material; in the latter two cities, Waste Management is the vendor.

The other Texas cities’ contracts are much longer than any of the deals Houston was considering, however, and took effect when the market was stronger.

Dallas’ deal, inked in 2007, expires at the end of the year. Fort Worth’s current agreement began in 2013 and expires in 2018. San Antonio began its contract in August 2014, as commodities entered their current slide; that deal runs through 2024.

Only Austin pays rates similar to Houston’s, under 20-year deals with two contractors that began in 2012. Balcones Resources, which gets 60 percent of Austin’s recyclables, collects $79 per ton to process the first 2,000 tons of material every month and $75 for every ton after that. Texas Disposal Systems, which gets the remaining material, charges $90.50 per ton.

“We were in a really tough spot since we were negotiating the contract at a time when commodity prices are at one of their lowest points, and other cities had the advantage of negotiating during more favorable commodity markets,” said Melanie Scruggs of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “We’re also at a disadvantage because Waste Management has a monopoly and apparently there are no firms large enough that take residential recycling.”

[…]

Scruggs said a key difference between Houston and its peer cities is that Austin, Dallas and San Antonio have adopted waste diversion goals backed by investments in public education, recycling programs at apartment buildings or composting efforts. Those efforts have strengthened the cities’ recycling markets.

“It’s a signal the city is going to be providing, whether it’s ordinances or publicly funded incentives, things that would benefit their business,” Scruggs said. “Houston has no such environment for recycling as of yet, which is why we’ve been advocating that the city get a zero-waste goal and a plan.”

Turner on Tuesday said one of the options the city could consider at the expiration of the recycling contract in two years would be drafting a “recycling plan that is robust for Houston.”

In the end, the new contract was approved, with two No votes. The city and groups like TCE will get the word out to people about not putting glass in their bins. In a best-case scenario, people will bring glass to recycling centers and the city will make a few bucks from that to help offset these other costs. Most likely, the vast majority of that glass will wind up in trash bins, which will cost the city some money but not as much as it would for the glass to be in the recycling bins. A Zero Waste goal and plan would probably help with that – you can see the TCE make its case for that here – so I hope the city begins consideration of a “draft recycling plan” before this contract expires.

Everybody wants in on the rail action

We’re like a magical land of opportunity for high-speed rail interests.

For more than three years, Japanese-backed Texas Central Partners has drawn attention with its plans to develop a Dallas-Houston bullet train. While that project is furthest along, French and Chinese rail interests are more quietly discussing the prospects for rail projects with state and local officials.

“There comes a time when adding lanes is not a solution anymore, and that’s when you realize you need more public transportation,” said Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, the U.S. subsidiary of French rail operator SNCF. The company has been talking with Texas officials in earnest for about a year about potential rail projects, Leray said.

Chinese-backed rail interests have also approached some transportation officials in Texas about future projects, several transportation officials confirmed.

[…]

If passenger rail projects take off in Texas, many international firms will be logical partners, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

“The people you want to talk to are the people with extensive experience with high-speed rail,” Morris said. “High-speed rail isn’t built in our country, so most of the people with experience in high-speed rail are from other countries.”

Morris has heard from foreign rail firms for years, but solicitations have picked up over the last 12 months, he said, as state and federal studies of the environmental impact of rail projects in Texas have moved forward. The Federal Railroad Administration is studying Texas Central’s proposed Houston-Dallas project and the Texas Department of Transportation is studying the prospects of passenger rail as far north as Oklahoma City and as far south as Monterrey.

“Everyone in the world knows you can’t complete anything without an environmental clearance,” Morris said.

Ross Milloy, executive director of the Lone Star Rail District, which is trying to build a passenger rail line between Austin and San Antonio, said he has also noticed increased interest from international rail firms over the last year and a half.

“I think they view Texas as fertile ground,” Milloy said.

[…]

Just because multiple international firms are looking at Texas doesn’t mean they’ll all work together. Leray said he has talked to officials about the importance of developing a robust high-speed rail network in Texas, rather than just the Dallas-Houston segment. Among the concerns he raised in a Texas Tribune interview is that Texas Central’s line would be built specifically for Shinkansen trains and wouldn’t be able to accommodate other trains. SNCF operates rail systems in Europe that support trains by multiple manufacturers.

“If you choose a system which is not technologically neutral, you’re locking the people of Texas into being served by a monopoly,” Leray said. “And I ask, is this what the people of Texas want?”

In response, Keith pointed to the Shinsaken’s safety record — no collisions or derailments in more than 50 years of operation.

“By operating a single train technology, signaling and core operating system, Texas Central can leverage the history and record of the high-speed rail experience in Japan to ensure the safe, predictable operation of its trains,” Keith said.

[…]

Beyond Texas Central Partners’ Dallas-Houston line, the project appearing to draw the most interest is a rail line between Dallas and Fort Worth. TxDOT created a special commission last year to look at the prospects for such a project. Bill Meadows, chairman of that commission, said the assumption is that such a project would develop with a private partner.

“The state doesn’t want to be in the high-speed rail business,” Meadows said. “There’s enough private sector and regional interest that I see it moving forward in that fashion.”

The Dallas-Fort Worth line has outsized importance, Meadows argued, because it could someday connect a Dallas-Houston line with a train that travels along the state’s crowded I-35 corridor to Austin and San Antonio.

“It is the linchpin that ties the two corridors together,” Meadows said.

Didn’t know there was a fight over what kind of train technology to use on the line. When the lobbyists start getting involved, that’s when you know it’s gotten real. I don’t have anything to add, I’m just glad to see all this action. The Press and Paradise in Hell have more.

The (mostly) high speed rail extension to Fort Worth

I hope they can make this happen.

A proposed high-speed rail route cutting through Dallas-Fort Worth would go slower than previously planned but would include a station south of DFW Airport, according to a newly unveiled plan.

The proposal, which is being studied by a state-appointed commission, would bring passengers from downtown Fort Worth to Arlington along the Interstate 30 corridor, then cut north roughly along the Texas 360 corridor to the CentrePort-Dallas/Fort Worth Airport area. From there, rail passengers could connect with other transportation to the airport to catch flights.

The line would then follow the Trinity Railway Express commuter line from CentrePort to downtown Dallas, according to a conceptual map made public Monday. TRE would keep operating on its tracks, and a second set of tracks — possibly elevated — would be built in the same right of way or adjacent property for the futuristic bullet trains.

The top speed would be around 125 mph — far below the 220 mph that the trains are capable of traveling — partly because of the serpentine shape of the route and the relatively short distance between stations.

But the new route would make high-speed rail accessible to more people in North Texas, a region of about 7 million people that’s expected to grow to 10.7 million by 2040.

“Certainly with the proximity to DFW Airport in this option, I think it’s important to note there is an opportunity there,” said Bill Meadows, chairman of the Commission for High-Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region.

[…]

Although the commission’s main purpose is to provide planning for the Metroplex, Meadows maintains that its work is actually the initial steps in setting up high-speed rail that will connect Houston, Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and other cities.

There is even interest in extending the lines north to Oklahoma City and south to Monterrey, Mexico, although that would likely take years to materialize, if not decades.

See here and here for the background. As the Dallas Observer notes, there are some questions about how effective this extension may be, given that it can’t go as fast as the Dallas to Houston portion of the line and that driving isn’t exactly burdensome. Still, if Houston and Fort Worth are your endpoints, this would be a very nice option, and there are all those possible expansion plans as well.

Paxton gets a court date

Mark your calendars.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will make his first court appearance on securities fraud charges later this month.

State District Judge George Gallagher issued an order on Friday that sets Paxton’s initial appearance for 10 a.m. Aug. 27.

But instead of being at the Collin County Courthouse where the indictments were issued, the hearing will be at the courthouse in Fort Worth where Gallagher is based. Under the law cited in the order, “any of the judicial proceedings except the trial on the merits [may be held] in a different county.”

There’s a copy of the court order at the link. Not a whole lot more to add, and there’s likely to not be much at the hearing, but we are officially on our way.

How many crimes does your police department solve?

Fewer than you think, unfortunately.

go_to_jail

Violent crime in America has been falling for two decades. That’s the good news. The bad news is, when crimes occur, they mostly go unpunished.

In fact, for most major crimes, police don’t even make an arrest or identify a suspect. That’s what police call “clearing” a crime; the “clearance rate” is the percentage of offenses cleared.

In 2013, the national clearance rate for homicide was 64 percent, and it’s far lower for other violent offenses and property crimes.

University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford says police have shifted priorities over the decades.

“In the ’60s and ’70s, no one thought that the police should be held responsible for how much crime there was,” Wellford says. Back then, he adds, police focused on calls for service and solving crimes.

In more recent years, he says, police have been pushed to focus more on prevention, which has taken precedence over solving crimes — especially non-violent offenses.

In short, the falling crime rate we’ve enjoyed may come at a cost: police indifference when you report your stereo was stolen.

I admit, that wouldn’t have occurred to me. I would have thought that with less crime, police departments would be more able to solve the crimes that were committed, since there would be less of a workload. I’m not a criminologist and I haven’t read any research on this, but my initial reaction here is to be a little skeptical. In what ways are police departments focused on crime prevention, and what evidence is there that those methods are working? My gut says that police departments these days – really, for the past thirty or so years – have concentrated on drug-related crimes. While I would agree that there’s some ancillary prevention benefit in that, we all know that this comes with a variety of costs. Maybe the national effort to decriminalize some drug offenses will have the benefit of allowing police departments to once again focus on solving the crimes that really do victimize the public.

The article comes with a utility to look up the crime clearance rates in your own community. Here’s what it showed for some of Texas’ biggest cities:

All violent crime Homicide Property crime City 2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013 ====================================================================== Houston 46% 39% 37% 90% 70% 76% 13% 12% 11% Abilene 47% 49% 64% 80% 100% 100% 25% 22% 20% Amarillo 40% 45% 48% 60% 100% 44% 18% 19% 22% Austin 49% 49% 57% 93% 87% 100% 12% 12% 13% Beaumont 70% 70% 69% 100% 100% 75% 23% 28% 27% Corpus Christi 54% 53% 45% 67% 63% 100% 20% 23% 19% Dallas 38% 40% 37% 65% 58% 60% 13% 11% 11% El Paso 48% 47% 49% 88% 96% 80% 18% 20% 22% Fort Worth 36% 38% 39% 61% 80% 86% 14% 16% 17% Laredo 80% 80% 79% 64% 88% 100% 20% 24% 28% Lubbock 30% 32% 34% 50% 73% 100% 15% 15% 19% McAllen 56% 66% 38% 50% 100% 0% 20% 22% 16% Midland 66% 68% 59% 100% 75% 40% 22% 25% 27% Plano 54% 51% 47% 80% 100% 100% 22% 22% 19% San Antonio 48% 36% 37% 80% 70% 75% 12% 11% 12% Waco 56% 56% 55% 91% 67% 50% 23% 23% 26%

Note that these are all for the above-named cities’ municipal police departments. I limited myself to cities that I could think of that had a population of at least 100,000. (Galveston, in case you were wondering, has about 48,000 people.) “Violent crime” includes “Murder and non-negligent manslaughter”, which I characterize above as “Homicide”, “Robbery”, and “Aggravated assault”. “Property Crime” includes “Burglary”, “Larceny-theft”, “Motor vehicle theft”, and “Arson”.

Don’t be too mesmerized by the Homicide solve rates for smaller cities. The total annual number for these crimes in cities of, say, 100,000 to 200,000, is often in the single digits. McAllen, for example, had 4 homicides in 2011, one in 2012, and two in 2013. In a few cases, such as Beaumont for 2011 and 2012, the number of murders solved was greater than the number of murders. My guess is that the solved crimes included cold cases, but there was no explanation on the site. I just listed those as 100% to avoid weirdness.

What stands out to me in all this is that generally speaking the smaller cities had much better solve rates for property crimes than the big cities. In Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, the solve rates for property crimes never topped 13%, but in the smaller cities it ranged from 18% to 28%. Fort Worth and Lubbock were the outliers there, on the low end. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it sure is interesting.

What application does this have to the 2015 Mayor’s race? (You knew I was going to get around to that, I’m sure.) Well, in addition to my wish that the candidates will eventually start to talk about public safety in a more comprehensive way, I’d think that a candidate who promised to have his police force concentrate on solving property crimes might be able to sway a voter or two. Lord knows, the Nextdoor discussion list for the greater Heights area spends a lot of time on break-ins and thefts and the like. Given how many of these crimes do go unsolved today, it seems to me there’s some traction to be gained on this issue. Just a thought.

There’s more than one player in the Texas high speed rail game

Cool.

What a weird map of Texas

A company that operates France’s national high-speed rail network is exploring possible involvement in Texas bullet trains.

“We’re here to listen, learn and evaluate,” Alain Leray, president and chief executive of SNCF America Inc., said Monday during a visit to downtown Fort Worth.

Leray and a colleague with SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company, attended a two-hour meeting of the Texas high-speed rail commission and later met privately with officials planning the project.

The high-speed rail commission was formed a little more than a year ago by the Texas Department of Transportation to plan for a possible bullet train network connecting Houston, Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

[…]

Leray said his firm’s emphasis is on providing high-speed rail services to multiple destinations, including downtown areas. That philosophy could be in contrast to that of the Japan-U.S. partnership, which is emphasizing only a point-to-point connection between Houston and Dallas.

Some critics say the proposed Houston-to-Dallas service will do little more than fill a void for airline service between the cities now that flight restrictions at Dallas’ Love Field have been removed, allowing Southwest Airlines to concentrate on long-distance service.

“Right now, all you have is a connection from outside Houston to Dallas,” Leray said. “My question is, is that what the people of Texas want?”

Texas Central Railway is on course to have its draft environmental document released by the middle of this year, and a federal record of decision by mid- to late-2016 allowing construction to begin on the Houston-to-Dallas line. During a handful of public meetings, some residents, especially in rural areas, have criticized the proposed Houston-to-Dallas line, saying they don’t want a rail service that primarily benefits urban areas cutting through their lands.

Texas Central Railway is trying to do a better job communicating the project to the public to assuage those concerns, spokesman Travis Kelly said.

Kelly said his firm would also welcome involvement by SNCF or any other companies into the planning efforts.

However, the involvement of multiple companies raises questions about connectivity. For example, as it stands now, there are no plans by either SNCF or Texas Central Railway to share technology or allow one entity’s trains on the other’s tracks.

That would seem to create a dilemma for North Texas planners, who have said all along they would support a high-speed rail system in the Metroplex only if there were stops in Arlington and Fort Worth, in addition to Houston and Dallas, and only if a rider could travel among all those cities without changing trains.

But Bill Meadows, a former Fort Worth City Council member who is chairman of the high-speed rail commission, said he is confident questions about connectivity can be addressed.

See here for some background. There are tons of unanswered questions here, about potential routes, funding, and timing, but it’s good to know someone is talking about this. Given the multiple roadblocks that Texas Central High-Speed Railway has encountered so far, it would be wise to take all this with a healthy dose of skepticism. Still, despite the friction Texas Central has come a long way, and there does seem to be real interest in this, so who knows. I’ll keep an eye on it.

The situation in Plano is complicated

I had not realized this.

The nation’s largest LGBT political advocacy group indicated this week it is unlikely to help defend a nondiscrimination ordinance in Plano due to exemptions affecting the transgender community.

The announcement from the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign could amount to a costly setback for supporters of the ordinance, as the organization recently poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a similar fight in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

[…]

Cathryn Oakley, HRC’s legislative counsel for state and municipal advocacy, told the Observer on Thursday that the organization hasn’t made a final decision about its role if the ordinance appears on the ballot. However, Oakley also made clear that HRC would be reluctant to join the fight due to exemptions including one that appears to bar people from using public restrooms according to their gender identity—a provision which she called “transphobic.”

“The language in Plano is very problematic and in terms of investing a lot of resources in an ordinance that has a lot of problems, it’s difficult to see why that’s necessarily the best use of resources,” Oakley said. “If we had been consulted in the drafting of this bill, we would have withdrawn our support, and given that, it’s hard to justify defending it as valid.”

[…]

Nell Gaither, president of Dallas-based Trans Pride Initiative, has posted blistering attacks on social media saying exemptions in the ordinance amount to bigotry and accusing other LGBT groups of signing off on them.

“This is not a Plano issue. This is a Texas issue, and more,” Gaither wrote recently. “If they get away with the lie that this is an LGBT equality policy it will set a dangerous precedent that will be very difficult to overcome for many, many years.”

I confess, I totally missed this aspect of the Plano equal rights ordinance. My fault for not paying sufficiently close attention to the details and for not having more trans resources in my regular reading list. The Dallas Voice covered Gaither’s criticisms:

Nell Gaither isn’t having it with Plano’s equal rights ordinance.

If anything, the Dallas transgender activist and Trans Pride Initiative president says she thinks the nondiscrimination ordinance, passed by the Plano City Council in December, is not just flawed but actually harmful.

On Wednesday, Jan. 21 TPI released a position statement denouncing the ordinance. And the organization did not hold back: “[We are] publishing this statement to express our conviction that the Plano Code of Ordinances Section 2-11, as modified by the so-called ‘Equal Rights Ordinance,’ is detrimental to the trans community and other marginalized persons who may experience discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Among the seven types of exemptions in the ordinance are nonprofit (except for city contractors), religious and educational organizations. Gaither also believes the ordinance contradicts the announcement by outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last year that Title VII of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act protects gender identity and sexual orientation.

Exempting organizations from the ordinance means any complaint filed under Title VII could be disregarded, Gaither said.

“It’s a green light to discriminate with no recourse,” she added.

[…]

Gaither says Plano and its elected officials don’t bear all the blame.

“Plano shut out the trans community because they didn’t understand the issues or the tactics of the conservative religious groups,” Gaither said. “GALA [ Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas ] has no interest in the trans community so didn’t do the right thing in their communications by insisting that the ordinance actually be an equal rights ordinance. [So] we have a lose/lose situation that is incredibly problematic for the broad community.”

Gaither also chided Equality Texas for accepting an ordinance that doesn’t adequately protect anyone in the LGBT community, especially trans people.

So here we have another object lesson in the need for diversity, and the vital importance of ensuring adequate representation of all stakeholders when undertaking a project like this. I encourage you to read the Trans Pride Initiative’s position paper on the Plano ERO and the specific points of concern it has with it. Their belief is that repealing the ordinance now would lead to a better outcome later. I’m sure some people will disagree with that. I don’t know how I feel about that as a strategic move. But I get where Gaither is coming from, and she totally has a point. Discrimination is still discrimination, and if this law fails to fully address it, indeed if it makes some forms of discrimination easier to get away with, then the bad of this law outweighs the good.

You may recall that this was a similar point of contention in the process that led to Houston’s equal rights ordinance. In the end, it was resolved favorably. It’s truly unfortunate that this didn’t happen in Plano, especially if it was a calculated move.

Although adamant they didn’t sign off on the exemptions, both Equality Texas and GALA North Texas indicated they plan to defend the ordinance if it appears on the ballot.

“While the ordinance is not perfect, it is a fact that it includes protections from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations for LGBT residents and veterans in Plano that did not previously exist,” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said in a statement to the Observer. “While criticisms expressed by leaders in the transgender community are valid, it is imperative that we work together to ensure that this ordinance is not repealed in the short term and is improved in the long term.”

Jeanne Rubin, a spokeswoman for GALA North Texas, called HRC’s likely decision to sit out the ballot fight disappointing.

“In politics, as much of a bummer as it is, everything is incremental, and I know that’s sort of a dirty word for our community,” said Rubin, who’s also an Equality Texas board member. “If this ordinance goes down, not only will Plano not touch this issue with a 10-foot pole, but no other suburban city out here will, and that doesn’t do L, G, B or T any good.”

Rubin and others said they believe the exemptions were included because officials hoped to head off attacks seen in other cities over transgender protections in public accommodations.

But if that’s the case, the strategy hasn’t worked. Despite the exemptions, opponents have repeatedly and publicly asserted that the ordinance would allow men to enter women’s restrooms and prey on children.

In other words, the same lies and bullshit being spread by the same kind of people who call themselves “Christians” as what we’re seeing here. I don’t know how some of these people can look at themselves in a mirror. The real tragedy here is that if we had passed ordinances like the HERO years ago, we wouldn’t be having these problems now. This Trib story, which provides an overview of the ongoing fights in Houston and Plano, provides this tidbit at the end:

In 2000, Fort Worth became the first major Texas city to update its nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections for sexual identity. Then-Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said he couldn’t remember facing the kind of opposition council members in Houston and Plano have faced.

“Frankly, I don’t remember any specifics of the debate about it,” Barr said this week. “That speaks to the fact that we passed it without a whole lot of fanfare.”

And to how our politics and our discourse have gotten so debased. Let that be a lesson to us all. Unfair Park has more.

San Antonio City Council passes vehicles for hire revision

Unlike Dallas, it’s the cab companies that are happy about it.

Lyft

After nearly three hours of debate Thursday, the San Antonio City Council voted 7-2 to approve new rules for ride-share companies Uber and Lyft that provide service in the city.

Only council members Ron Nirenberg and Rey Saldana opposed the motion. Councilman Roberto Trevino, who assumed the District 1 seat earlier Thursday, abstained.

The new regulations, which include a 10-fingerprint background check and third-party inspections for ride-share vehicles, provide a pathway for the services to operate legally in the city but Uber has said the new regulations could close down the services.

An earlier motion by Councilman Nirenberg to delay a vote on the proposed new rules failed on a 7-3 vote.

See here and here for the background. I have to say, I’m a little surprised that Council didn’t agree to delay the vote till the two newest members, plus the one absent member, were all in place and ready to be heard. I know this has gone on for a long time and it’s nice to finish a piece of business, but all things considered another month wouldn’t have hurt.

What happens next is not clear yet.

Uber

Uber and Lyft representatives said they will begin reviewing the regulations and amendments to see if they will continue to operate in San Antonio. In six months, Council will review the ordinance’s performance.

“We need to actually digest the amendments, this is the first we’re hearing of them,” said Uber Dallas General Manager Leandre Johns. “We’ll have to decide how to go forward from there.”

Both TNCs have been operating in San Antonio for about nine months, despite receiving cease and desist letters from Police Chief William McManus, who sought unsuccessfully to shut down the rideshare services while an updated vehicle-for-hire ordinance was studied and implemented. McManus argued successfully to impose tougher regulations than those recommended by the City’s task force.

I suppose this means that six months from now San Antonio could completely redo it. I don’t know how likely that is, but it’s at least theoretically possible. You can see a copy of the Dallas ordinance at that link above as well. Going forward, Uber is operating in Fort Worth and El Paso; Lyft is in Fort Worth as well, where the Dallas ordinance may be the model for official approval. The Legislature may address the issue of insurance for TNCs as well. Most of the high profile stuff appears to be behind us, but there are still chapters to be written.

Connecting the high-speed rail line to Fort Worth

This is encouraging.

State transportation officials this week are unveiling early plans for a high-speed train line from Dallas to Fort Worth. Like Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s plans to expand transit service in downtown, the project is an attempt to take advantage of plans for a high-speed rail line from Dallas to Houston.

The Texas Department of Transportation for years has looked at possible high-speed rail lines across the state. None of those lines, including the Dallas-to-Fort Worth one, have funding. But officials have studied the possibilities and potential routes, which ideally would connect the state’s biggest cities and could eventually run from South Texas to Oklahoma City.

“These projects are part of a larger statewide network,” said Erik Steavens, TxDOT’s rail director. “You obviously want to see the network built out in a manner where it can be built out logically.”

[…]

The route and funding aren’t all the state has to figure out. There’s also the question of what type of train will run on the track. The state could have its own trains, or it could pay the Texas Central Railway to run its trains on TxDOT tracks so passengers from Houston could have a one-seat trip to Fort Worth.

Another key decision is picking and securing a station on the Dallas end of the line. The state wants to tie the line into a private developer’s planned line to Houston.

“It should be something where we have those tied together,” Steavens said.

For sure. It’s good to see that the Texas Central plan has already gotten people to think beyond it, because as with any transportation system a network is much better than a single route. Robert Eckels, the president of Texas Central High-Speed Railway, has already expressed his wish to see the Houston end of that line go on to Galveston. As for the South-Texas-to-Oklahoma-City idea, I haven’t heard much about that project since February but it’s nice to see someone is still talking about it. What else would be nice would be for something to emerge from the next Legislature to move the idea forward in some fashion. That’s clearly not a priority for Greg Abbott, but perhaps as long as there’s no formal opposition a bill or two could move forward. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on this spring.

The Mayors opine for high speed rail

They pen an editorial in its favor.

We are proud to be mayors of three of the largest and fastest-growing cities in America. Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston have weathered the recent economic downturn and are now the engines powering our state’s tremendous job growth. While we celebrate the individual successes of our respective cities, we also recognize how important Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston are to each other.

With the bounty of economic growth comes the challenge of thousands of new people relocating to our cities, as well as increased commerce in the form of trucks on our highways. Moreover, many Texans are surprised to learn that over 50,000 “super-commuters” travel between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston more than once a week. Additionally, millions of our respective residents have friends and family separated by the 240-mile stretch of Interstate 45. These factors create congestion and place a massive and growing strain on our infrastructure.

[…]

One of the reasons high-speed rail projects in the United States have been unsuccessful thus far is that they have relied solely on government funding for completion. We hope that Texas Central Railway can succeed because its approach to this project is unique. For the first time, we are seeing a market-driven approach to high-speed rail led by private investment. We applaud the way in which Texas Central brought a much-needed project, an innovative approach and its checkbook to Texas.

Countries across Europe and Asia have enjoyed high-speed rail service for decades, but the United States is not yet home to the kind of rail line proposed by Texas Central. As Texans, we take great pride in blazing a path for the rest of the country to follow. This effort will do just that.

High-speed rail will provide a travel alternative that will help alleviate congestion on I-45, create thousands of quality jobs and may help Texas travelers reduce their carbon footprint. We look forward to the day when the residents of Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth can travel on a high-speed rail between our two metropolitan areas in fewer than 90 minutes.

See here for the background. The same op-ed ran in the Chron on Monday as well. I would quibble with the wording of that first sentence in the third from last paragraph – as with anything related to government funding, politics is always the bigger issue than the funding itself. Be that as it may, as the TCR folks will readily tell you, the Houston-Dallas corridor is uniquely well-suited for their project – two huge urban centers a workable distance apart, separated by a lot of flat and empty land with existing freight rail rights of way to leverage. I absolutely hope TCR will be a big success that will serve as a catalyst for other rail projects, beginning with the completion of the Texas Triangle, with a Houston-Austin connection and extensions to Galveston, Oklahoma City, and Laredo/Monterrey, but I don’t know that I’d expect subsequent projects to follow the same business model. It’s entirely reasonable to me that some greater form of government involvement, perhaps a public-private partnership, may be needed for future lines. Or maybe this will be so successful it will demonstrate that somewhat less optimal alignments can still make money. It’s way too early to tell.

Anyway. Since the op-ed mentioned supercommuters, I thought I’d refer back to this blog post about them, because we have quite a few in Texas. While the TCR line will undoubtedly make life easier for these hardy folks, I don’t think that will directly affect traffic much – I figure the bi-metro types either fly or do their driving on weekends and other non-prime times. Getting them off the road will still be a big win environmentally, of course. There’s just a lot to like about this.

The Mayors love high speed rail

As well they should.

The mayors of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth announced Thursday their unified support for the construction of a privately funded bullet train between the two metropolitan regions.

“If successful, Houstonians will have a reliable, private alternative that will help alleviate traffic congestion and drastically reduce travel times,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said at a press conference at Houston City Hall.

Texas Central Railway announced in 2012 its plans to build a 200 mph rail line that would transport passengers between Dallas and Houston within 90 minutes. The company has said it will not require any public subsidies to fund the multi-billion dollar project, which it is developing in partnership with a Japanese firm, Central Japan Railway.

The mayors praised the project and predicted it would aid the state economically and environmentally by reducing the number of people traveling by car.

“Not only will high-speed rail significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion for Dallas and Houston area residents, but it will also create new, high-paying jobs and stimulate economic growth,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

The endorsements come as the Federal Railroad Commission is “30 to 60 days” away from formally launching an environmental impact study of the project, said Robert Eckels, a former Harris County judge and president of Texas Central Railway. The study, which will be funded by Texas Central Railway, is a critical step on the project’s path to drawing approval from federal regulators.

Mayor Parker’s press release for this is here. As you know, I’ve been following – and a fan of – this project for some time. What’s especially exciting about this is the news that Texas Central Railway will be getting the EIS process started soon, because from there is where it begins to get real. I had the opportunity along with a couple of my blogging colleagues to meet with Eckels and other TCR folks and ask them some questions about the project; PDiddie wrote up some notes from the meeting. I don’t have a whole lot to add to that except to say that you should check out TCR’s latest presentation about the state of their business, and then go look at Eckels’ presentation at a recent HGAC brown bag lunch, which is on YouTube. It’s an exciting time. Dallas Transportation and Texas Leftist have more.

Fort Worth and Tarrant County

Between Wendy Davis’ campaign for Governor, and the campaign to succeed Wendy Davis in SD10, there’s going to be a lot of attention focused on Forth Worth in the next twelve months.

The two scenes capture the split political personality that has emerged this year in Tarrant County — both the largest reliably Republican county in Texas and ground zero of Democrats’ efforts to turn the state blue. The county, home of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas’ fifth- and seventh-largest cities, Fort Worth and Arlington, has become a focal point in the state’s political future.

“Houston, Dallas, Austin, El Paso, San Antonio — all of these are blue; they’re all Democratic areas,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “Fort Worth is the last holdout Republicans have of the big cities.”

For most of the 20th century, Democrats dominated politics across Texas. Amid the Reagan revolution of the 1980s, Republicans made inroads in Tarrant County and elsewhere. By the mid-1990s, the Republican Party held a majority of the county’s political offices and was well on its way to overtaking the political landscape statewide.

“I lived in Tarrant County when just about every judge was a Democrat, so for us to not have even one Democratic judge does not speak well to our efforts,” Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairwoman Deborah Peoples said.

[…]

In 2006, Democrats in neighboring Dallas County swept more than 40 local races, upending the county’s longstanding Republican leadership overnight. Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder, a Republican who has been active in the local party for decades, said Dallas Republicans got complacent.

“They were just coasting off the top of the ticket, and they never built a base,” Wilder said. “We don’t have that problem in Tarrant County.”

Indeed, Tarrant County’s geography has played a role in the area’s Republican dominance. Whereas many conservatives in Dallas and Houston left the cities for suburbs in neighboring counties, Tarrant County has retained many of those voters in smaller suburban cities in its northeast quadrant, an area in which Tea Party groups have moved the Republican Party further to the right in recent years.

“It is an upper-middle-class, professional part of Tarrant County,” Riddlesperger said. “Demographically, they look like the Tea Party does nationally.”

Let’s be clear about why Tarrant County is more Republican than the other major urban counties in Texas. Look at how Tarrant County and Fort Worth stack up against their peers:

County Population City Population City % ===================================================== El Paso 827,398 El Paso 672,538 81.3% Bexar 1,785,704 San Antonio 1,382,951 77.4% Travis 1,095,584 Austin 842,592 76.9% Harris 4,253,700 Houston 2,160,821 50.8% Dallas 2,453,843 Dallas 1,241,162 50.6% Tarrant 1,880,153 Fort Worth 777,992 41.3%

If you assume that the cities are generally more Democratic than the surrounding suburbs, then it’s easy to see why Tarrant lags behind the other big urban counties. There’s a lot of suburb to move into that’s still in Tarrant County if you want to flee from Fort Worth. To say that Tarrant County is Texas politics writ small is to say that Democrats are going to need to do better in the suburbs to be in a position to win.

Another way of looking at it:

County Anglo % ================= El Paso 13.7% Bexar 29.8% Dallas 32.2% Harris 32.2% Travis 50.1% Tarrant 50.7%

All figures from the Census webpage. Other than Travis County, which has the largest collection of Anglo Democrats in the state, counties that are majority Anglo tend to be majority Republican. I don’t know what the trend lines look like for Tarrant, but this will be something to keep an eye on.

Political observers have cited Tarrant County as a bellwether, arguing that if Democrats were to ever win the county again, it would be a sign that the state is poised to flip politically as well. But Republicans see nothing that will change Tarrant from red to blue in 2014. And Davis has been careful to frame her run as aimed at increasing Democratic turnout statewide and not specifically in her home county.

Nonetheless, her decision to base her campaign for governor in Fort Worth has energized Tarrant County Democrats. Battleground Texas, a Democratic group trying to make the state politically competitive again, has recently relocated some staff members to Fort Worth to coordinate better with Davis’s campaign.

[…]

Democrats do not plan to concede northeast Tarrant County to the Tea Party, Peoples said, though she acknowledged that area is probably the toughest to gain ground.

“Things are changing in northeast Tarrant County,” Peoples said. “They are changing much faster in the rest of the county.”

Dems don’t need to specifically flip Tarrant County to win statewide, but it’s unlikely they can win statewide if they don’t at least make gains in Tarrant County. It would be nice if there were some Democratic countywide candidates in Tarrant to help advance the ball, but that’s not looking so good right now. Be that as it may, in Tarrant and elsewhere Dems need to boost the Latino vote for sure, but they also need to do better among Anglo suburban voters, like the kind you find in Tarrant County. If Tarrant is a microcosm of Texas, it’s because it’s full of the kind of voters Dems need to do a better job of persuading.

The race is also on in SD10

Now that Sen. Wendy Davis will abandon her re-election in SD10 to run for Governor, Democrats need to find a candidate that might be able to hold her seat.

Joel Burns

The Republican field is already crowded with four candidates in the race. Names of potential Democratic candidates are swirling, but no contender has officially announced. And since Fort Worth will be home base for Davis’ newly-announced gubernatorial campaign, insiders say the eventual Democratic candidate for the Senate seat could ride her campaign coattails.

Among Democrats, Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns’ name has come up as a potential candidate to succeed Davis. Burns previously said he thought about running for the seat but that it wasn’t open yet.

Davis is officially in the gubernatorial race now, but Burns said he remains undecided about whether he’ll jump into the Senate race despite urging from friends and supporters.

“I will be talking with my family, constituents and with Tarrant County business and community leaders over the coming days and weeks about our future together and how we can best keep strong representation for Tarrant County neighborhoods while moving Texas forward,” Burns said in a statement.

Burns is a longtime friend of Davis and succeeded her on the city council in 2008 when she stepped down to run for the Senate. His partner, J.D. Angle, is a longtime Davis consultant and is expected to run her gubernatorial campaign.

Deborah Peoples, Tarrant County Democratic Party chairwoman, said others have expressed interest in the race, but the potential contenders were waiting for Davis’ announcement.

I’m already in the tank for Burns, but if there are other good Democrats who’d like to take a shot at it, I say go for it. Just keep it positive and on topic in the primary, that’s all I ask. Fort Worth Weekly suggests Burns may be leaning towards a run. I suspect that he and many other will-they-or-won’t-they candidates will be announcing decisions soon.