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Gene Wu

The case for calling a Harvey special session

Rep. Gene Wu disagrees with Greg Abbott’s decision.

Rep. Gene Wu

The historic level of damage and suffering caused by Harvey requires that we tap into our state’s Rainy Day Fund. Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to not call a special session of the Texas Legislature to access emergency funding will worsen the long-term economic effects of one of the most powerful storms to ever land on our shores.

Abbott has stated that there is no need for a special session, implicitly saying that there is no need to tap into the Economic Stabilization Fund — our state’s savings account, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund — and that existing resources are sufficient to deal with the widespread devastation caused by Harvey.

However, if there has been one lesson that I’ve learned in my three terms in the Legislature, it’s that existing resources are never adequate in Texas. Our schools continue to be some of the worst funded in the nation, half of our rural hospitals are on the verge of closing, and we barely maintain our existing infrastructure. Texas mostly skates by on a combination of luck and creative accounting. But more importantly, what we have budgeted for are common occurrences and normal disasters. The historic level of damage from Harvey is anything but common.

[…]

The Rainy Day Fund is available right now. The Texas Legislature needs to only meet for a few days and send a bill to the governor to access the funds. There is strong bipartisan support because members understand the desperate need for a quick response. In this past legislative session, conservative members argued that the fund should not be used for “reoccurring” expenses because we needed to save it for one-time emergencies. This is that emergency.

The state could provide immediate, low-interest or no-interest small loans to help businesses rebuild quickly. The money could go to help Houston ISD to repair the more than 200 schools that suffered flood damage, including 53 with critical damage. Harris County could use the funds to expedite repairs so that courts and the jury assembly center are not closed for the next three months. Outside of the Houston area, entire cities need to be rebuilt. Simply leaving local counties and municipalities on their own to rebuild means a slower recovery — possibly causing businesses to close or leave our state, and taking jobs with them.

See here for the background. I guess I’m not fully clear on what the Legislative Budget Board can and cannot do, and what gaps there would be if only the LBB gets to act. I do think Rep. Wu is right on about appropriating money to the schools and school districts that have been heavily damaged by Harvey. I can’t think of a better use of Rainy Day Fund money than to make schools safe and available for students again. Again, if the LBB can do this, great. It will be a lot less messy that way – I mean, if you think the jackasses of the Freedom Caucus won’t try to screw with an emergency appropriations bill for school repairs, I have to ask what Legislature you’ve been watching – but if the LBB can’t do that, then a special session it needs to be.

The anti-vaxxers had another good legislative session

Sure would be nice if we could put a stop to this.

It was mid-April, more than halfway through the legislative session, and Texans for Vaccine Choice was finally getting the fight it had been spoiling for. On April 11, a bill to require schools to report the number of unvaccinated kids had been heatedly debated in a House committee. Doctors, public health experts, parents and others had testified in favor of House Bill 2249, calling it a transparency measure that would simply provide information about vaccination rates at individual schools. The matter was pressing, they said, because more and more parents were opting their kids out of vaccinations using a “reasons of conscience” exemption created by the Legislature in 2003. Without action, recent high-profile outbreaks of mumps and measles in Texas would only grow worse.

But Texans for Vaccine Choice has a radically different frame. While the pro-vaccination crowd appeals to legislators on the basis of science and public health, the anti-vaxxers have their own funhouse mirror version. Vaccines contain toxic chemicals, they say. They cause autism. They overwhelm the immune system. But more than that, the activists, many of them mothers, framed their position as one of parental choice and personal freedom — a message that commands attention at the Texas Legislature.

“The responsibility for my son does not fall on the state or any other family,” said one woman at the committee hearing. “And I would never rely on the herd to keep my son safe.”

Two days later, Texans for Vaccine Choice held a “Freedom Fight” rally on the South Steps of the Capitol. The event featured two prominent members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, Jonathan Stickland and Bill Zedler, close allies of the anti-vaccination activists.

“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Why do you associate with those crazy vaccine people?’” said Stickland. “I said, ‘Because I am one’.”

Stickland went on to lay out a case for “choice.”

“Where there is risk, there must be choice,” he said. “It’s not government’s job to try to influence our behavior. … The state of Texas doesn’t own our kids. They should be looking for ways to protect parents because we know what’s best for our kids.”

[…]

In the final days of the 85th legislative session, it looked like the pro- and anti-vaccine lobbies were going to have to make do with a draw. But at the 11th hour, a discussion over a bill authored by Representative Gene Wu, D-Houston, requiring Child Protective Services to give new children in its custody medical exams, suddenly turned into a feverish argument about vaccines.

Urged on by Texans for Vaccine Choice, Zedler proposed a surprise amendment that would exclude vaccinations from those checkups. Vaccines, he insisted, “do not qualify as emergency care.” He was joined by several Republican members of the Freedom Caucus, with Representative Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, arguing that it was an “issue of liberty.”

A plea from Representative Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, a cancer survivor, failed to move the majority of Republicans. Davis proposed a measure that would at least require foster children to be vaccinated against cervical cancer. Her proposal was defeated in a 74-64 vote. Zedler’s amendment, meanwhile, was adopted 74-58.

Though Wu’s bill died in the Senate, a similar version of Zedler’s amendment found its way onto another child welfare bill and was signed into law by Governor Abbott.

Texans for Vaccine Choice considered the session a win. In early June, the group held a victory party that featured a fajita buffet and “chips fried in a dedicated gluten free frier.“) Photos on the group’s Facebook page show Tinderholt posing with an American flag hat while Zedler opted for a crown.

Pro-vaccine lobbyist Jason Sabo is anxious that mainstream Republicans, who might ordinarily have voted against potentially harmful anti-vaccination legislation, now see it as a primary issue.

“Only the extreme of the extreme show up to vote in the primaries: the anti-vaxxers, the pro-gun people, and the anti-annexation guys. Get four or five of these groups together and you have a bloc. And it’s really smart,” Sabo told the Observer. “So next session we have a choice: We either do the same thing and get the same results, or we come back with a different strategy.”

See here for some background. Rep. Wu’s bill was HB39, and the record vote on the Zedler amendment is here. You will note that only Republicans voted for the Zedler amendment. All Democrats, and a half dozen or so Republicans voted against it. If this isn’t a partisan issue by now, it’s pretty close. I think the “different strategy” that is needed here is to recognize that this is a campaign issue, for both March and November, and to treat it as such. Follow the model of the Texas Parent PAC, recruit and support some pro-vaccination Republicans in strong-R districts, and support Democratic candidates in competitive districts, for which there ought to be more than usual this cycle. Bill Zedler won with 57% of the vote in 2016, Stickland with 55.6%; Tinderholt didn’t have a Dem challenger in 2016, but won with 56% in 2014. None of these districts are unassailable, and maybe – just maybe – making vaccinations an issue might swing a few votes away from these guys, none of whom have anything but hardcore Republican brand loyalty to recommend them. Perhaps there’s a better strategy to stem these losses in the future, but if so I don’t know what it is. I can’t guarantee that pro-vaccination forces will be successful if they try to win a few elections, but I can guarantee they’ll have a much better time of it in the 2019 legislative session if they do.

Public testimony on SB4

It was heated, as you might expect.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Scores of residents urged City Council on Tuesday to challenge the state’s “sanctuary cities” ban, speaking during more than five hours of public testimony on the eve of council’s vote on whether to join litigation.

Council chambers overflowed with residents waiting to testify on Senate Bill 4, which allows police to ask people their immigration status if detained.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has asked council to vote Wednesday on joining lawsuits already filed by several Texas cities and advocacy groups.

Democratic state lawmakers kicked off what became at times a heated discussion about the law, which goes into effect Sept. 1.

“This bill is sanctioned hate, and for us to sanction that regime of hate – I think it’s unconscionable,” state Rep. Armando Walle told City Council. “I do not want to have to carry my passport just to show somebody, any law enforcement agency, that I’m a U.S. citizen, just based on the color of my skin.”

Walle was among 14 Houston-area Democratic lawmakers who wrote council members last week urging them to support litigation, something a Chronicle survey earlier this month suggests they are likely to do.

Those who spoke in favor of a lawsuit Tuesday argued SB4 is an unconstitutional, unnecessary and immoral law that would harm public safety, adding that Houston ought to demonstrate leadership on the issue.

“Houston has always prided itself in being a welcoming city, known for our diversity and our rich culture, and our immigrant population is a critical part of our vibrant identity,” said Jane Meyer, a nun with the Dominican Sisters of Houston.

Those against suing spoke to the need to enforce federal immigration law, said Houston should not spend money on joining a legal fight already underway and worried the city could lose state and federal funding by following through with a lawsuit.

See here and here for the background. To briefly address the “we shouldn’t get involved” arguments: Enforcing federal immigration law is the responsibility of the federal government; for HPD to take on that task would significantly affect their ability to fulfill the responsibilities they already have. The lawyering in this case will be done by MALDEF and the ACLU, and if the plaintiffs prevail the state will be on the hook for attorneys’ fees. The best way to ensure the city doesn’t lose funds is to ensure that laws like SB4 get blocked. And, you know, it’s the right thing to do.

I doubt any of the testimony changed anyone’s mind, and on that assumption I expect this vote to pass, though I still expect it won’t happen till next Wednesday. We’ll see if there are any surprises.

Bill to allow discrimination in adoptions and foster care passes the House

Shameful.

Rep. James Frank

Under House Bill 3859, which advanced on a 94-51 vote, providers would be protected from legal retaliation if they assert their “sincerely held religious beliefs” while caring for abused and neglected children. The measure would allow them to place a child in a religion-based school; deny referrals for abortion-related contraceptives, drugs or devices; and refuse to contract with other organizations that don’t share their religious beliefs.

Rep. James Frank, the Wichita Falls Republican who authored the bill and an adoptive father, said repeatedly during a lengthy debate Tuesday that his legislation is not meant to be exclusionary but to give providers some certainty when it comes to legal disputes. He described opposition to the bill as “fabricated hysteria.”

“You can be successful, but it will cost you,” Frank said. “The bill declares a winner and says, ‘You are protected.'”

But Democratic lawmakers who lined up at a podium at the back of the House chamber to question Frank said the legislation would give religious groups license to discriminate against LGBT — or Jewish or divorced — parents who want to foster or adopt, or to avoid getting children vaccinated. A vast array of things could be classified as a “sincerely held religious belief,” they said.

“We’re further casting these children off,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston. “We’re making it more difficult for them to be adopted.”

See here for the background. The original sin here is the state accepting the idea that it’s okay for faith-based groups to treat children who don’t conform to their faith differently than those who do. By its very definition, it’s not acting in the best interests of the child, but of the providers, who last I checked were supposed to have the best interests of the child as their primary concern. And the “sincerely-held beliefs” dodge is just that, for as Chuck Smith said in that earlier story there are a lot of harmful beliefs out there. Remember this?

So check out the short exchange in the video clip above between Cohen and Becky Riggle, a pastor at Houston’s Grace Community Church. Riggle was testifying against [HERO], arguing that it violates the religious freedom of business owners and others in Houston who think LGBT people are sinful. If a business owner has the right to refuse service to LGBT people because the owner’s religious beliefs are offended, Cohen asks, then should business owners also be able to refuse service to other people — like, say, Jews — for the same reason?

Riggle, clearly realizing she’s trapped by her own argument, proceeds to trip all over her tongue in trying to respond. She ultimately suggests that yes, religious freedom would allow her to discriminate against Jews. But she insists “that’s not the issue” in the case of the Houston ERO.

Actually, that’s exactly what this is about — whether someone’s religious beliefs give them a free pass to discriminate against anyone they choose in civil society.

“Sincerely held” is not a synonym for “commendable” or “worthwhile”. This is a bad idea and it will be directly harmful to children who are already pretty damn vulnerable. ThinkProgress, the Observer, and the Chron have more.

Oh, and on a separate note, there was this:

A foster care bill in the House turned into a heated debate on vaccinations for children on Wednesday.

The bill from Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, is part of the state’s attempt to reform its foster care system. Wu’s House Bill 39, which won preliminary approval, would limit on the number of kids a Child Protective Services worker could supervise. It would also require speedy medical evaluations of children entering the foster care system.

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington and vice chairman of the staunchly conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, authored an amendment to the bill that would have restricted doctors from including vaccinations in initial medical examinations for children. Zedler said children could be removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, and then given an unwanted vaccination.

On the floor, Zedler told lawmakers that vaccines don’t protect public health and should not be considered an emergency medication. “The vaccination is only for that child to protect that child,” he said.

[…]

Zedler’s amendment had both Democrats and Republicans up in arms. Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, attempted to change Zedler’s amendment to allow doctor’s to distribute a vaccine if it has been proven to prevent cancer. Davis, who has previously been an advocate for vaccinations, said she was “dumbfounded” that lawmakers would vote against preventing cervical cancer.

“My amendment empowers doctors to practice medicine,” Davis said during a testy exchange with Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. “I think this is so important that we can eradicate cervical cancer.”

Leach said he was concerned that Davis’ amendment would revoke parental rights who do not believe in vaccination, and “rip that decision from the parents and the child and give it to the doctor.”

Emphasis mine. Zedler’s amendment passed, while Davis’ attempt to modify it was defeated. Here are the 2016 election numbers in Zedler’s district and in Leach’s district. Sure would be nice to have some better representatives in those two districts, wouldn’t it? The Trib has more.

House passes its “sanctuary cities” bill

Terrible.

After more than 16 hours of debate, the Texas House of Representatives early Thursday morning tentatively gave a nod to the latest version of a Senate bill that would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas.

The 93-54 vote on second reading fell along party lines and came after one of the slowest moving but most emotional legislative days at the state Capitol.

The vote came at 3 a.m. after state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, successfully made an what some Democratic members called an unprecedented motion to group all of the remaining amendments — more than 100 — and record them as failed. He said he made that suggestion so members wouldn’t be forced to pull their amendments. The motion passed 114 to 29, with about a third of Democrats approving the measure.

Members voted on the bill after adding back a controversial provision that extends the scope of the bill and allows local peace officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain. The original House version of the bill only allowed officers to inquire about status during a lawful arrest.

That detainment language was included in what the Senate passed out of its chamber in February but was later removed by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s House sponsor.

The amendment to add that provision back into the bill was offered by Tyler Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, who was in the middle of a back-and-forth, deal-making struggle that stopped debate for more than hour. Both parties’ members caucused as they tried to hammer out a deal whereby Schaefer would pull his amendment and Democrats would limit the number of proposals they would offer.

But no compromise was reached, despite several high-profile Republicans, including Geren and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, telling members they would vote against the Schaefer proposal.

The intent of bill is “getting dangerous criminals off the street. That’s the mission. Shouldn’t be anymore than that,” Cook said.

The bill keeps a provision that makes sheriffs, constables and police chiefs subject to a Class A misdemeanor for failing to cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to removal. It also keeps civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and swell to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction.”

[…]

One point of major contention was a controversial amendment that moves the House version closer to the bill that passed the Senate.

The amendment would make police eligible to question the status of any person detained for an investigation of a criminal infraction, no matter how serious. The House had originally gutted that language and limited the questioning to police officers making an arrest.

The 81-64 vote came after key Republicans, including Geren, said came out against the change. Geren was one of nine Republicans joining Democrats in voting against the amendment.

SB4 was given final approval yesterday and will head back to the Senate for concurrence. Remember how the revised House version was supposed to be less awful than the original Senate version? Thanks to the Schaefer amendment, that is no longer the case. This bill was a top priority of the Republicans, and it was always going to pass. The only real question was how harmful it was going to be, and now we have an answer to that. I still don’t know what public policy goals the Republicans have in mind for this bill, but I’m confident they will not achieve them. What they will get is a bunch of lawsuits, so get ready for that.

Two more things. One, there’s this:

Legislation designed to limit the ability of cities for issuing ID cards to undocumented immigrants and onetime criminals was tentatively approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.

Supporters insisted Senate Bill 1733 was designed to standardize ID across Texas, and ensure that they meet federal homeland-security standards.

Opponents said the measure is designed to make it harder for minority populations to get access to services, and targets immigrants since many of them use locally issued ID cards for that purpose.

[…]

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, an El Paso Democrat who chairs the minority caucus in the Republican-controlled Senate, said he fears “various groups would be restricted from accessing services” because the bill appears to limit local officials from issuing cards and restricts the types of cards that can be accepted for identification by a government official.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, expressed similar concerns.

“They’re more worried about this being used for voting than anything else,” she said after the debate ended. “It’s all made up. It’s a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Many problems that don’t exist have been getting solved this session. I’d say it’s the Republicans’ core competency.

Two, I usually put statements I receive in email about this bill or that news item beneath the fold, but in this case I want it on the main page. So here are some reactions to the House passage of SB4.

From the ACLU, which had a press call with several Texas leaders:

The State of Texas is on the verge of enacting legislation that could make the state a pariah in the eyes of the nation.

Today, local elected officials and advocates gathered on a press call to condemn this legislation and outline the varied consequences, including: 1) promoting racial profiling based on appearance, background and accent that will affect U.S. citizens and immigrants alike; 2) hurting public safety policies that encourage all residents, including immigrants, to report crimes and serve as witnesses; and 3) dictating to elected officials and law enforcement that they must follow state mandates or else face jail time.

A recording of today’s call is available here.

When Arizona enacted draconian legislation in 2010, it resulted in boycotts, lost revenue and a devastating blow to the reputation of the state. Texas is on the verge of repeating that mistake.

As the United States courts continue to uphold the Constitution and block Trump’s overarching, un-American and anti-immigrant executive orders — including his attempts to cut funding from so-called sanctuary cities — legislation, such as this bill, allows states to circumvent the courts and enlarge Trump’s Deportation Force.

Greg Casar, Austin Council Member
“The Legislature is attempting to blackmail cities into violating our residents’ constitutional rights. We must not comply with this unconstitutional, discriminatory and dangerous mandate. We will fight this bill to the end — at City Hall, in the courts, and protesting in the streets.”

​Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas
“I am deeply grieved but wholly unsurprised that anti-immigrant lawmakers in the Texas House have taken a wrongheaded, racist piece of legislation and made it a ‘show me your papers’ bill. They have stated as clearly as they can that they’re willing to target innocent children, break up families, encourage constitutional violations like racial profiling and endanger Texas communities solely to make immigrants feel unwelcome in Texas. But the members of our immigrant communities should know that you are welcome in Texas, and you’re not alone. The ACLU stands ready to fight the inevitable excesses and abuses of this inhumane, wasteful, hateful bill. We stand with Texas immigrants.”​

State Representative Victoria Neave
“This issue is very personal to me. It will impact families on a level some people just don’t understand. This bill will make us less safe and cause a chilling effect among communities in our state.”

Jose P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project
“Today, Texas officially became the front line of resistance against racist and discriminatory immigration policies. SB 4 will result in increased racial profiling, communities that are less safe and a more stagnant economy. On behalf of working families across the state, we vow to fight this policy in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box until we prevail.”

Karla Perez, statewide coordinator for United We Dream UndocuTexas Campaign
“Anti-immigrant legislators in Texas have directed their hate at the immigrant children and families of this state, people of color and our LGBTQ community by criminalizing us and our families, and by passing legislation that will tear apart families like mine. They have shown that they do not care about dignity and respect for immigrants in our state. It is no surprise that under anti-immigrant leadership, Texas is advancing yet another proposal couched in discriminatory intent to the aide of their white supremacist agenda. We will hold accountable those causing pain and fear in our state, and history will not judge them well. Our fight does not end here. When our immigrant community is under attack, we unite and we fight back. Our diverse communities will continue to organize and build our networks of local defenses across the state to move us forward. This is our resilience, this is our strength, and this is our home — we are here to stay.​

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund
“Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the state Legislature are turbocharging the radical mass deportation strategy of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. If not reversed or resisted, the combination of ‘unshackled’ federal deportation force agents and state-mandated collusion with those agents by local jurisdictions could result in one of the darkest chapters in American history. Texas has a population of 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, second only to California. The prospect of a Trump-Abbott mass deportation strategy taking root is as terrifying as it is despicable. People of goodwill from throughout America, and from throughout the world, are not going to stand by in silence as the state of Texas unleashes a campaign of discrimination against people based on their color, national origin or accent. Nor are they going to continue embracing a state that is about to unleash a campaign of terror aimed at immigrant families with deep roots in the state.”

From the Texas Organizing Project:

The following is a statement from Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, on the passage of SB4 by the Texas House early this morning:

“This morning’s vote by the Texas House is disheartening and disgraceful, and puts Texas closer to passing a show-me-your-papers law that will promote racial profiling of Latinos. The amendments added during the debate that will allow police to question the immigration status ofr children and people detained, not arrested, are especially troublesome and cruel.

“If SB4 becomes law, it will also make Texas less safe by further driving undocumented immigrants into the shadows, afraid of all interactions with police, whether they’re the victims or witnesses. It will also hurt the state’s economy by making us a target for economic boycotts and the loss of productivity that an increase in deportations this law would surely cause.

“No one except Republicans in the state’s leadership wants this racist, divisive and inhumane bill to become law; not police, not local elected officials and certainly not a majority of Texans.

“This bill, combined with the voter ID law and redistricting maps that have been repeatedly deemed to be intentionally discriminatory by federal courts, prove that our state’s legislature wants to erase and marginalize people of color. But we will not succumb to their will. We will not disappear. We will rise up. We will vote. We will claim our power. This is our Texas.

“As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Justice will prevail. We will prevail.”

From State Rep. Gene Wu:

Today’s passage of Senate Bill 4 is a solution in search of a problem. This is a bill that has been crafted out of fear and hatred of immigrants. Not a single Texas city refuses to comply with voluntary ICE Detainers. Not a single Texas city can be called a “Sanctuary City.” The bill as passed, would not just detain criminals, but would target children, victims of crimes, and even immigrants who served in our armed forces. The Texas Legislature has, today, passed a Arizona-style, “Show-me-your-papers” law that will disproportionately affect communities such as those that make up District 137 — hardworking communities made up of native and non-native Texans, refugees, and immigrants both documented and undocumented.

This legislation is cruel. When it was made clear this bill would cause American citizens to be jailed and detained, the proponents of the bill shrugged it off as an unfortunate inconvenience. When Democrats offered amendments to exempt children and victims going to testify in court, those measures were repeatedly defeated on purely party lines. Democrats also asked to exempt religious-based schools who may object with deeply held beliefs; that too was defeated on partisan lines.

When I first spoke on this bill I couldn’t stop thinking about my boys. This bill and other laws like it are a constant reminder that, despite being born in this nation, they will be seen as outsiders because of the way they look; that the law will treat them with suspicion; and they will have to fight just to be treated equally. I was reminded that this is not the first time laws were passed against immigrants based on fear and hatred. And, it will not be the last.

Democrats were united in their opposition to the legislation because this felt like an attack on the diverse communities that we represent and that make Texas great. At the end of the day, all we asked for was mercy for our communities; mercy for our families; and mercy for our children. But no mercy was given.

From the Texas AFL-CIO:

Approval of a harsh, “show me your papers”-style bill that drafts local criminal justice officials into becoming an arm of the federal immigration system marks one of the saddest days I have ever spent around the Texas Legislature.

This bill will harm all working people. Immigrants do some of the hardest jobs in our state and are net contributors not just to our economy but to our future. SB 4 will not only make it easier for unscrupulous employers to deny important workplace rights to immigrants, but will also undermine important labor standards for all workers.

SB 4 is also bad for our Brothers and Sisters in law enforcement who depend on the trust of those who live in the communities they police. That trust could become all but unobtainable under SB 4.

Worst of all, SB 4 will broadly discriminate against minorities in Texas, regardless of immigration status. It will increase the number of times American citizens are asked about their immigration status because of their appearance or language. By making mere detention, rather than arrest, the threshold for questioning immigration status, the law will ensnare people who are not even suspected of committing a crime.

We believe there is broad consensus that the U.S. immigration system is broken. But SB 4 will simply increase discrimination and hardship rather than point toward comprehensive immigration reform.

The DMN, the Texas Observer, the Dallas Observer, and the Current have more.

Three State Rep race overviews

In the order of their publication, beginning with HD149:

Rep. Hubert Vo

Rep. Hubert Vo

For more than a decade in Texas House District 149 – where Harris and Fort Bend counties meet – a growing, ethnically diverse voting population has done something rare for the Houston suburbs: Elect a Democrat.

State Rep. Hubert Vo, whose district includes Alief and Katy, hopes the trend will carry him to a seventh term in Austin.

In 2004, his path to the Texas Capitol proved an ordeal, as he sought to unseat longtime Republican state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, who was chairman of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations. Vo won the race by 33 votes and, after a short-lived challenge by Heflin, Vo became the first Vietnamese-American elected to the state Legislature.

Vo has fended off Republican attempts to take back the seat, including in 2014, when he defeated Al Hoang, a former Houston City Council member, thanks to a majority coalition of Latino, African-American and Asian-American voters.

Come November, the Democratic legislator will face his latest GOP challenger: Bryan Chu, a Houston dentist who moved to Texas from California about a decade ago.

Born in Vietnam, Chu and his family fled the Southeast Asian country by boat in 1980, when he was 13, “in order to escape the harassment from the government.”

Chu said the district’s voters have kept Vo, a 60-year-old businessman and real estate developer, as their state representative largely because of ethnic-based loyalty.

[…]

Vietnamese-American voting preferences since 2000 have shown a sharp swing toward Democratic candidates, locally and nationally, for a group that once strongly supported Republicans, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a public policy professor at the University of California-Riverside.

“Over time, we’re seeing that issues like the social safety net, health care are the kinds of things that are becoming more important in Vietnamese communities,” said Ramakrishnan, who directs the annual National Asian American Survey. “But there’s also a generational shift, much like the Cuban story, where (younger Asian-American voters) tend to be more Democratic.”

To Prof. Ramakrishnan’s point, I would note that HD149 voted for President Obama over Mitt Romney 58.8% to 40.1% in 2012, with every downballot Democrat carrying the district by at least 15 points. I’d call that a bit more than “ethnic-based loyalty”, which last I checked didn’t help Al Hoang very much. I suppose anything is possible, but you’d get long odds on Rep. Vo losing this race.

HD144:

Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez

One challenger has an unusual pitch in one of the state’s few competitive House races.

“I am former state Representative Mary Ann Perez and I’m coming by to ask your support to get my seat back,” the Democrat tells residents on a residential Pasadena street.

She is block-walking almost daily in her campaign to once again represent District 144, which includes Pasadena, Baytown and parts of east Houston. Her 2012 victory was the first time the district had sent a Democrat to Austin since Ann Richards won the governor’s mansion in 1990.

Perez, a 54-year-old insurance agent, ticks off her experience: She already served one term in the Legislature, losing to Gilbert Peña’s shoestring Republican campaign in 2014. She chaired the Houston Community College board and shepherded the system’s largest-ever bond package to passage. She led her homeowners association, volunteered with the Little League where her boys played and led a youth group at a nearby Catholic church.

Perez portrays herself as an experienced public servant and a pro-business Democrat with local roots who lost her seat practically by accident. Peña’s 152-vote victory surprised even Republicans, who had given him little support. “He got lucky,” Perez said.

Now, observers say, the socially conservative GOP incumbent is fighting for his political life in a presidential election year when Democratic turnout is expected to be strong. Donald Trump’s polarizing candidacy also may hurt down-ballot Republicans, especially in a district that is 70 percent Hispanic.

Here’s the interview I did with Perez in the primary; she won a three-way race without a runoff. This is a genuine swing district, but every Democrat carried it in 2012, with Perez outperforming the other Dems, winding up with a five point win against a stronger candidate than Gilbert Pena. The Republican establishment seems to consider this a lost cause based on fundraising totals in the July and 30 day reports. Again, anything can happen, and a stronger incumbent would make this a much more interesting race, but it would be a pretty big upset if Perez lost.

And finally, HD137:

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

Kendall Baker proudly admits that before deciding to try to replace his state representative, he had no idea who his state representative was.

“Nobody knows who he is,” Baker said. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to run. Because he is not visible to the community, and he’s not known to the community.”

The representative, Gene Wu, has a different take.

“We’re not a flashy office, but we are a responsive office. And I’ve been in this area for 30 years, and I’ve been always been a volunteer and community busybody,” Wu said. “And this is the first time I’ve ever seen his face pop up at any community event.”

The disagreement highlights the dynamics of the District 137 race, where the two candidates appear to be operating in different worlds.

Wu, a Democrat who is running for his third term representing the west and southwest Houston district, said he has built a reputation as a hardworking policy wonk who has helped the area by reaching across the aisle to achieve commonsense accomplishments in energy policy and criminal justice reform.

Baker, a Republican and high-profile opponent of Houston’s equal rights ordinance who ran unsuccessfully for city council last year, said that years of poor representation has left the district dilapidated and in need of a “good ol’ fashioned politician” to cut taxes and create jobs.

Here’s my primary interview with Rep Wu. Let’s just draw a curtain over this one, because Kendall Baker is an idiot who was a complete non-factor in the District F Council race last year and who was “indefinitely suspended” from his job at the city for being a sexual harasser. HD137 is strongly Democratic – 63.9% to 34.5% for Obama over Romney in 2012 – and Rep. Wu is a damn fine legislator who campaigns tirelessly. Donald Trump will shave his head and join the board of directors at Our Bodies Ourselves before Kendall Baker wins this race.

July finance reports for State Rep candidates

Hey, it’s July, and you know what that means: Campaign finance reports! There aren’t many State Rep races of interest this November, but there are four that I wanted to look at.

HD134

Rep. Sarah Davis
Ben Rose


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Davis       92,972  252,457         0     53,839
Rose        83,047   31,278         0     54,691

I don’t really expect HD134 to be particularly tight – it will never be “safe” in the sense that most districts are, but it also won’t be any closer than 55-45 barring anything odd. Which, to be fair, could happen this year. Ben Rose has been pretty active so far, and he raised a decent amount of money; his campaign sent out an email on Tuesday bragging that they are “currently in 1st place with more cash on hand than our incumbent opponent”, which is true enough but not perhaps the most accurate way of viewing things, given that Davis spent a bunch of money in a contested primary. If he gets to make the same boast after the 30 Day reports come out, I will be genuinely impressed. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if Rep. Davis retains the endorsement she received in 2014 from Equality Texas. She hasn’t done anything to forfeit it as far as I know, but unlike 2014 she has a viable opponent. We’ll see what happens.

HD144

Rep. Gilbert Pena
Mary Ann Perez


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Pena        14,920   15,932         0     13,643
Perez       38,304   37,814         0     48,362

Bear in mind here that Gilbert Pena is the incumbent, not the challenger. How an incumbent, even an accidental one like Pena, could have that little to show for two years in office is a good question, but perhaps the answer is that he’s a clear underdog, based on 2012 results. Mary Ann Perez, who lost to Pena in 2014 by a close margin, had to win a three-way primary and will likely have an incumbent-sized bank account by the time the next report is filed.

HD149

Rep. Hubert Vo
Bryan Chu


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Vo          34,763   44,541    45,119     56,071
Chu         27,668   42,732    46,475     17,593

As with Hd134, I don’t expect anything exciting here, but Republicans sometimes throw a bunch of money at Rep. Vo, and sometimes they find a self-funder to spare them the effort. Chu actually had a decent number of small-dollar donations, but in the end I doubt it will amount to much.

HD137

Rep. Gene Wu
Kendall Baker


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Wu          42,851   35,928    45,000    124,611
Baker           20   23,424         0         20

This district is closer to safe than swing, but Rep. Wu’s opponent was one of the anti-HERO leaders, who ran for District F last year and finished third in a field of three. I was curious to see if any of Kendall Baker’s fellow HERO-haters would show him some love in this race, for old time’s sake if nothing else. I think you can guess what the answer to that is. Baker’s expenditures all came from personal funds, including $20K to Aubrey Taylor Communications for “Election related banners on blog posts thru 11/8/2016”. I’d always heard there was money to be made in blogging, I guess I was just too dumb to figure out how to do it. Maybe next election.

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO today announced their support of Senfronia Thompson for State Senator District 13.

“Our unions screened two candidates for Senate District 13 — Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles,” said Zeph Capo, President of the Area Labor Federation. “Both candidates have been steadfast allies in our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, raise wages for all, adequately fund public services, and defend civil rights. Ultimately, Thompson’s deep experience and long record as a champion for working families led us to back her.”

“Over her twenty-two terms of public service, Senfronia Thompson has been an energetic and consistent advocate of initiatives to help better the lives of working families,” said John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “She is one of the most reliable, influential, and effective leaders with whom I have ever worked. Her knowledge of how state government works is what sets her apart from the other candidates.”

“Representative Thompson has the integrity, the vision, and the will to advocate for all of SD 13’s constituents. Labor will work hard to get her elected to office and help her achieve that goal,” added Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Area Labor Federation.

The release, which came out on Thursday, is here. It was followed on Friday by this:

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

Please join me in supporting Borris Miles for State Senate, District 13.

With the departure of Senator Rodney Ellis to join Commissioners Court, we need to make sure that we have an energetic warrior for the people representing us in the State Senate. That’s my friend and former House colleague, Borris Miles.

I’ve worked with Borris for years and watched his commitment and skill in moving our Democratic priorities forward.

From giving misguided kids a second chance at a better life, to doubling fines for outsiders who dump their trash in our neighborhoods, to increasing access to health care and expanding educational opportunities for us all – Borris gets the job done.

Believe me, it’s tough getting things done as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled legislature. But that’s exactly what our communities deserve.

I’m for Borris because Borris is a warrior for the people. That’s why I respectfully ask you to cast your vote for Borris as the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Senate, District 13.

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

Thompson, who first was elected in 1972, has picked up a slew of endorsements from area Democratic congressmen and state legislators.

They include U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, as well as state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Ron Reynolds, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle and Gene Wu.

Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and the also have endorsed Thompson, among others.

[…]

Miles also touted Dutton’s support, in addition to that of former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, among others.

Dutton could not immediately be reached for comment to clarify which candidate he has in fact backed.

Asked if he has received any endorsements, Green said he is focused on earning precinct chairs’ support.

I’m a little surprised at how active Mayor Turner has been in intra-Democratic elections so far. Mayor Parker was a lot more circumspect, and Mayor White basically recused himself from party politics for his six years in office. I guess I’m not that surprised – the Lege was his bailiwick for a long time – and while these family fights often get nasty, I’m sure he’s fully aware of the pros and cons of getting involved. Whatever the case, this race just got a lot more interesting.

How you can help or get help in Houston

Via email from State Rep. Gene Wu:

I hope this email finds you safe after yesterday’s flooding. While we are seeing most of the high water receding from our neighborhoods, there is still a good deal of cleanup work to do today. Please stay safe as we anticipate even more rain throughout the day.

For those of you able to help your fellow Houstonians, you are always encouraged to donate to the Red Cross.

The Red Cross is also seeking volunteers who are available to commit 6-8 hours to assist at Houston-area shelters. There are different roles volunteers can play during a shelter operation:

  • provide immediate emergency services to individuals and families
  • greet families and provide comfort as they arrive.
  • provide meals, comfort kits, etc.
  • help oversee shelter operations.
  • entertain families.
  • assist in overnight security.

Other volunteer opportunities are available as well. To volunteer, contact the Red Cross at 713.313.5491.

Shelters in the Greater Houston area are located at:

Shelter                         Address
----------------------------------------------------
Chinese Community Center        9800 Town Park Drive
----------------------------------------------------
Johnston Middle School          10410 Manhattan Dr.
----------------------------------------------------
Willow Meadows Baptist Church   4300 W Bellfort Blvd
----------------------------------------------------
MO Campbell Education Center    1865 Aldine Bender
----------------------------------------------------
Jersey Village Baptist Church   16518 Jersey Drive (Jersey Village)
----------------------------------------------------
South County Community Ctr      2235 Lake Robbins Rd. (Spring)
----------------------------------------------------
Pine Island Baptist Church      36573 Brumlow Road (Hempstead)
----------------------------------------------------
Knights of Columbus Hall        1390 Highway 90 W (Sealy)
----------------------------------------------------
First United Methodist Church   4308 W. Davis Street (Conroe)
----------------------------------------------------
Royal High School               2550 Durkin Road (Pattison)
----------------------------------------------------
East Montgomery County          21679 McClesky (New Caney)
Community Center
----------------------------------------------------

As a reminder, here are some helpful links and phone numbers in case they are needed:

 

Thanks and stay safe!

From Sen. Rodney Ellis:

As our community continues to deal with flooding, please keep in mind these important tips to stay safe:
  1. Follow evacuation orders and do not attempt to return until officials say it is safe to do so.
  2. Head for higher ground and stay there.
  3. Stay away from floodwaters. If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, stop, turn around and go another way.
  4. Turn around, don’t drown. If driving, turn around and go another way. If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground. Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water.
  5. Keep children out of the water.
  6. Be especially cautious at night when it’s harder to see flood danger.
Area services
These services will help you as you begin to recover from the flood’s impact.
  1. Report flooding: the City of Houston Office of Emergency Management is asking any residents who experienced flooding inside their home or business to report it to the Houston 311 Help & Information Line by calling 311 orsubmitting the report online here.
  2. Legal assistance: the State Bar of Texas offers a legal hotline to help connect people with legal aid providers following disasters: 1-800-504-7030. Additional resources are available at texasbar.com/disasters and texaslawhelp.org.
  3. Abandoned car: if your car was towed during the flood, call 713-308-8580 or visit findmytowedcar.com to determine where it is currently located.
  4. No power or downed power lines: please report a power outage or downed power lines to CenterPoint Energy at 713-207-2222.
  5. Food: if you need food or water, please contact the Houston Food Bank at 832-369-9390.
  6. Free storage: U-Haul is offering 30 days of free storage and U-Box container usage to flood victims. Call one of the Houston offices for more details: U-Haul of East Houston 281-377-3380; U-Haul of West Houston 281-495-6683; U-Haul of Gulf Coast Texas 713-750-7701; U-Haul Storage Centers of Houston 281-531-4022

And from CM Greg Travis:

1. Report Flooding to 311:
Please report all flooding to 311. As you have no doubt heard, the ReBuild Houston program is “worst first,” meaning the areas with the greatest flooding will receive reconstruction prior to areas with less severe flooding. Self-reported 311 information is the main data point going into the SWEET (Storm Water Enhanced Evaluation Technique), which aids in prioritizing drainage projects. It is vitally important that everyone who experienced structural flooding (flooding inside their home or business) report it to 311.
There are four ways to make reports to 311:
Phone: 713-837-0311 (or 3-1-1)
Smartphone: download the mobile app from the site above (or from the Apple App site or the Google Play site) and use it to report matters directly to the City of Houston
If you are reporting flooding online please select “Traffic, Streets, and Drainage,” then select “Report Flooding” from the “Maintenance & Repairs” menu. If you experienced flooding on a prior date you did not report (for instance, May 2015 or October 2015), you may also use this same process to report the prior flooding event.
If you have pictures of the flooding you wish to submit, you may report flooding by email and attach pictures, or once you have received the service request number for your report, you may email 311 the number with your pictures and ask to have the pictures attached to your flooding report.
2. Flood Recovery Information:
For flood recovery information, please visit http://www.houstonemergency.org/go/doc/2263/2620898
Currently, this site only has flood recovery information from May 2015 and October 2015, but the city is in the process of updating the information. This site will contain information about flood mitigation assistance, hazard mitigation grants, repairing flood damage if you live in a floodplain, making a flood insurance claim, and other important information to get you and your family back on your feet.
3. City of Houston Trash Pick-Up:
There was no City of Houston trash pick-up yesterday due to the floods. For information regarding the pick-up schedule for the rest of the week, please visit http://www.houstontx.gov/solidwaste/press-04182016.html
If you have questions about City of Houston trash pick-up, please contact one of the following Solid Waste Department representatives during normal business hours:
Irma Reyes
Tyra Wilkins
4. Information Regarding Late Filing of Your Federal Income Tax Return:
Yesterday was the deadline to file your federal income tax return. If you were not able to file due to flooding, and you did not timely request an extension, you will find information to assist you here: https://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/Houston-Area-Taxpayers-Affected-by-Severe-Weather-May-Qualify-for-Relief-from-Penalties-on-Late-Tax-Returns
5. Find your Towed Vehicle:
If you were forced to abandon your vehicle on a public roadway and it was towed, you will find information regarding the location of your towed vehicle here: http://findmytowedcar.com/tvrmscitizen/mainpage.aspx
6. Utility Outages:
CenterPoint Energy crews have been working since the storm began Sunday night to restore service to affected customers. Overall, an estimated 170,000 customers have been impacted with a peak of approximately 120,000. The most heavily impacted areas are Cypress, Greenspoint, Humble and Spring Branch. As of 2:30 p.m. yesterday, approximately 45,000 customers remain without power. CenterPoint will be bringing an additional 30 crews from neighboring utilities and their contractors to assist in the most heavily impacted areas.

CenterPoint crews are having difficulty making it through floodwaters, which is slowing power restoration efforts. Customers should be prepared for extended outages, particularly in some of the harder-hit areas. Estimates of when power will be restored will also be delayed.

Safety is CenterPoint Energy’s No. 1 priority, and the company has provided these important electric and natural gas safety tips:
Electric:
  • Stay away from downed power lines. Be especially mindful of downed lines that could be hidden in floodwaters, and treat all downed lines as if they are energized.
  •  If you experience flooding and water has risen above the electrical outlets in your home, contact a licensed electrician before turning on the main circuit breaker or trying to restore power.
  •  All electrical appliances and electronic equipment that have been submerged in water need to dry thoroughly for at least one week. Then, have them checked by a qualified repair person before turning them on. Attempting to repair a flood-damaged appliance could result in electrical shock or death. Attempting to restart it could result in further damage and costly repairs.
  •  If the outside unit of an air conditioning system has been under water, mud and water may have accumulated in the controls. Have the unit checked by a qualified air conditioning technician.
  Natural Gas:
  • Do not turn off your natural gas service at the meter; doing so could allow water to enter the natural gas lines.
  •  Be alert for the smell of natural gas. If you smell gas, leave the area immediately and tell others to leave, too.
  •  If you smell gas, do not turn the lights on or off, smoke, strike a match, use a cell phone or operate anything that might cause a spark, including a flashlight or a generator.
  • Do not attempt to turn natural gas valves on or off. Once safely away from the area, call 888-876-5786, and CenterPoint Energy will send a trained service technician.
  • If your home was flooded, call a licensed plumber or gas appliance technician to inspect your appliances and gas piping to make sure they are in good operating condition before calling CenterPoint Energy to reconnect service. This includes outdoor gas appliances including pool heaters, gas grills and gas lights.
  • Before conducting debris cleanup, or to locate underground natural gas lines and other underground utility lines before digging on property, call 811 – the nationwide Call Before You Dig number.
  • Be aware of where your natural gas meter is located. As debris is put out for heavy trash pickup, make sure it is placed away from the meter. In many areas the meter may be near the curb. If debris is near a gas meter, the mechanized equipment used by trash collectors could pull up the meter, damaging it and causing a potentially hazardous situation. If this happens, leave the area immediately and call CenterPoint Energy at 888-876-5786.
 For the latest information on power outages:
The District G office will provide additional information as it becomes available.  Above all, please stay safe.

See here and here for more from the Red Cross. There’s a reason why I don’t unsubscribe to the zillions of email lists I manage to get onto. Times of crisis are always good times to give blood as well – go to the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center to arrange for a donation. Remember that the general rule is that it’s better to give money to a charitable organization than stuff unless they are specifically asking for stuff. Don’t buy canned goods and bring them to the food bank. They can get those canned good more cheaply than you, so give them the money you would have spent.

HISD schools were closed yesterday but at last report were to be open today, while city and county offices reopened and Metro resumed service yesterday. Some other school districts remain closed. There’s still rain in the forecast through tomorrow though nothing like Monday, so there’s still a risk of flooding. Hopefully that won’t happen, but be prepared and stay off the roads as much as possible.

Alma Allen for HISD Superintendent?

It could happen.

Rep. Alma Allen

Rep. Alma Allen

State Rep. Alma Allen, a former school principal, has emerged as a high-profile contender for the HISD superintendent’s job during the early stages of the search.

The Houston Democrat, who retired from the Houston Independent School District in 2000 and served on the State Board of Education for much of the 1990s, confirmed to the Houston Chronicle on Friday that she was seeking the post to lead the nation’s seventh-largest school system.

“I want people to know,” said Allen, 76. “I want them to know they have someone in the city who is a native Houstonian who is qualified for this position. …This is something I would love to do. I would love for my career to end on this note.”

[…]

The school board has indicated it plans to look across the country for a superintendent to replace Terry Grier, who retired Feb. 29. However, the trustees have not yet crafted a profile of the ideal candidate. The search firm they hired first plans to provide them with feedback from community meetings held over the last two months.

Allen, who worked four decades in HISD as a teacher, principal and central-office administrator, said she has the support of several elected officials, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a former colleague in the state House. Turner’s spokeswoman did not return messages seeking comment Friday.

Allen said one of Turner’s staff members gave the school board’s search firm a letter of support for her at a meeting Wednesday night. State Rep. Gene Wu, who was at the meeting, said he did not read the letter but recalled the mayor’s staffer saying the mayor was sending a letter of support. Wu said he and state Rep. Hubert Vo, another Houston Democrat, both support Allen.

“We at least want her to be considered – someone who has had a lifelong tenure in education, someone who is intimately knowledgeable about our education system, someone who sits on the education committee in the Legislature,” Wu said. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have someone who is able to navigate the Legislature.”

There’s some other general praise for Rep. Allen, whose only known competitor for the job (if indeed she wants it) is interim Superintendent Ken Huewitt. Neither Allen nor Huewitt has ever been a Superintendent before – they would have to pass a certification exam or get a waiver from the Texas Education Agency in order to take the HISD job – and Huewitt doesn’t have a background in education but rather in finance, which has caused some people to express concern about him.

Joe Greenberg, spokesman for a local group of business leaders, parents and community leaders called the Coalition for Great Houston Schools, urged the board to pursue a national search.

“The board’s highest priority should be to search for a candidate with a track record of tangible academic achievement in a large, diverse urban district,” he said.

I like Rep. Allen and admire the work she’s done in the Lege. She would surely know how to work with them to ensure that the needs of a large urban school district such as HISD were being met. That said, the Board hired a search firm for a reason, and I think we need to let them do their thing before we begin to zero in on anyone for the job. I’d also like to know what the various parent and activist groups think. By all means, put Rep. Allen in the running. Just don’t make it a two-person race from the get go.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

“Visit www.HarrisVotes.com to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at www.HarrisVotes.com.”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.

Endorsement watch: State reps

The Chron makes endorsements in some State Rep races. Here are the ones I’m interested in.

District 126: Cris Hernandez

Two strong candidates who grew up in district are running in the primary and hope to replace Republican Patricia Harless, who is not running for re-election. Cris Hernandez, a projects coordinator for a fiber optics company, is making his second bid for the northwest Harris County district that’s surrounded by Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball and Spring. In 2014, Hernandez, who described himself as a “policy wonk,” ran as a Libertarian and received 13.7 percent of the vote. Our choice is Hernandez because of his firm grasp of the issues – holding the line on property taxes, equitable funding for Texas public schools and expansion of Medicaid – that will likely come up in the 2017 legislative session. His opponent, Houston attorney Joy Dawson-Thomas has the credentials and the potential to be an influential voice in the district in years to come. The winner of this race will face Republican Kevin Roberts, who is running unopposed.

District 131: Alma A. Allen

Incumbent Alma A. Allen is seeking her seventh term representing this southwest Houston District that includes part of Missouri City, and we believe she well deserves to be returned to Austin. A retired career public school educator who serves as vice chair of the House Education Committee, Allen has been a strong, powerful advocate for children and public education. Her expertise will be especially needed given the anticipated Supreme Court ruling on the way Texas funds its public schools and the possibility of a 2016 special legislative session. Her seniority, wisdom and voice in the education debate will be a plus for residents of House District 131 and greater Houston. Allen’s opponent is businessman John Shike.

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

District 137: Gene Wu

When the federal government announced that it would start resettling Syrian refugees in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott looked at the fleeing families and saw a dangerous threat. State Rep. Gene Wu saw his next constituents. His southwest Houston district of Gulfton and Sharpstown might as well be the Ellis Island of Houston, serving as home to the waves of immigrants that come to our nation in search of freedom and safety. Burmese, Afghani, Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese, Libyans – Wu can tick off the timeline of new arrivals over the past several years. He knows who they are and knows he’ll be there to help. In the Legislature, he worked to pass an important bill that protected children who were victims of human trafficking, directing them to Child Protective Services instead of jail. And as a former Harris County prosecutor, he’s an important figure in the criminal justice debates in Austin. In this race he’s being challenged by attorney Edward Pollard, a self-proclaimed “conservative Democrat” who opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

District 148: Jessica Cristina Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

With 22 years in office, Jessica Farrar has become the 10th most senior state representative in Austin. And now that Sylvester Turner has left Austin for City Hall, Democrats are going to need all the seniority and institutional knowledge they can muster if they want to wage an effective defense against the Republican majority.

Over her 11 terms, Farrar has used her political power to become one of the foremost advocates for women’s issues in the state Legislature. While Farrar has been consistent in her advocacy, her changing north Houston district, which covers Spring Branch East, the Greater Heights, Near Northside and Northline, has brought new challenges to the office. Higher incomes and engaged citizens demand more from her office, and we hope she’s up to the task.

Farrar is being challenged by Dave Wilson, Houston Community College trustee for District II. Wilson told the editorial board that he is running to advocate for the middle class, but voters probably best know him for his anti-gay, anti-abortion stances, and all-around social conservatism.

District 149: Hubert Vo

First elected in 2004, Vo has grown comfortable as an advocate for economic development. He takes pride in supporting the Tier 1 bill that helped push the University of Houston into top ranks – and is still paying dividends as schools like Texas Tech climb the stats. Working to attract new tech companies to Texas, like SpaceX, also sits on his list of accomplishments. If reelected, he said he wants to focus on bolstering the infrastructure around the Port of Houston to accommodate increased trade after the expansion of the Panama Canal.

They call this “Part 1”, but the only Democratic race left to evaluate is in HD144. As such, I suspect Part 2 will be the Republican side, minus the three races they commented on here. In HD126, Joy Dawson-Thomas has so far won all the endorsements from the various clubs that have offered an opinion in this race, which makes me wonder what the Chron saw that they didn’t. Perhaps it was Hernandez’s previous Libertarian candidacy, or perhaps he just didn’t screen with them. As for the incumbents, the case for them all is clear. I’ve begun to hear some chatter that some of their opponents, in particular Dave Wilson and Demetria Smith, are being pushed by Republicans as an exercise in what Karl Rove once called ratf**king. I don’t know how seriously to take that, since Republicans will be plenty busy with their own long slate of contested races (not to mention, you know, the Presidential primary), while Democratic turnout is likely to be high enough to make any such attempt an exercise in futility, but the reward from a GOP perspective of getting one of those clowns nominated is pretty damn big, so a little paranoia is warranted. If only there were a deep-pocketed Democratic donor or two in this town who could write a check for some mailers in support of these candidates. Anyway, pay attention and for goodness’ sake don’t skip out after voting for Hillary or Bernie. The rest of these races matter.

Complaint filed against Cruz campaign for “check enclosed” stunt

This ought to be fun.

A liberal Texas political group has filed a formal complaint alleging that a recent fundraising solicitation mailed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign violated state law.

The solicitation came in an envelope featuring a return address in official government type and the words “check enclosed.” The “check” was a fake check made out to Cruz’s campaign, accompanied by a missive asking the recipient to send in a “matching donation.”

Such fundraising techniques are relatively common, but in Texas they may now be illegal under a law passed last year by the state Legislature.

The law, House Bill 1265, authored by Houston Democrat Gene Wu, required solicitations resembling government notices, checks or negotiable invoices to include, “in at least 18-point type,” the words “SPECIMEN-NON-NEGOTIABLE.”

Cruz’s mailer said — in small type — “this check is a facsimile not redeemable or negotiable and has no cash value.”

The liberal group, Progress Texas, filed the complaint Monday with the Attorney General’s Office, according to a copy obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

“This is the kind of mail my legislation was trying to prevent,” Wu said in a statement about the complaint. “It certainly breaks the spirit of the law, and I agree that the Texas’ Consumer Protection Division should look into whether or not it breaks the letter of the law, as well.”

You can see a copy of the complaint here. I can only imagine what the reaction to this filing was like at the AG’s office; I’m guessing they handled it by holding it between two fingers, on the corner of the paper, with a pinched look on their faces. This is a new law, and I imagine it’s the first complaint made under it. Seems pretty straightforward here, but you never know once the lawyers get involved. I have no idea what happens next, procedurally or timewise or whatever else, though I’m sure we’ll hear about it one way or another. Any lawyers out there want to speculate? Progress Texas’ press release is here, and Trail Blazers, the Current, and the HuffPo have more.

Interview with Rep. Gene Wu

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

We turn now to legislative races, where there are a couple of open seats and a couple of challenged incumbents to keep an eye on. State Rep. Gene Wu is in his second term, having won a four-way primary in 2012 to succeed the retiring Rep. Scott Hochberg; here’s the interview I did with him at that time. A former prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s office who is now in private practice, Rep. Wu has served twice on the Energy Resources Committees and once each on the Elections and County Affairs committees. Wu has also worked on criminal justice issues, authoring a bill to reduce penalties for marijuana possession in the 2015 session, and recently formally requested a Justice Department investigation into state directives concerning Syrian refugees, for which he was lauded by the Chronicle. He was also an active supporter of HERO in the 2015 election.

I do all my interviews in advance, sometimes well in advance. This is partly about my availability and partly about how quickly an interview subject gets back to me, but mostly about the reality that this process takes time, and I need to ensure I have enough of it. In this case, I interviewed Rep. Wu and his opponent, Edward Pollard, during the Christmas break. I interviewed a lot of candidates at that time, because it worked well with my schedule. As I said, this helps me ensure that I can get the job done in a timely fashion, which is a big consideration for a short campaign season like this primary.

The down side to this is that sometimes things happen after the interviews are done that change how I would have done them in the first place. The out-of-the-blue ruling on HERO, which occurred after I had spoken to multiple candidates last year, is a prime example of this. Sometimes the thing that happens directly involves one or more of the people in a given race. I can’t go back and change the interviews I’ve done, but I can edit the post I write about it. With that in mind, let me direct you to this Facebook post by Beth Martin, who is the District Director for Rep. Wu, who had a very unpleasant encounter with Mr. Pollard at Rep. Wu’s district office. What she experienced is clearly unacceptable, especially for a candidate. I try to give everyone a fair shake in these interviews and stay away from the political aspect, but I would be negligent the extreme if I did not mention this.

With all that said, here’s what Rep. Wu and I talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa to retire

A second open Congressional seat for 2016.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa

First elected to Congress in 1996, Hinojosa has largely had a dormant campaign operation for most of this cycle, and he drew a Republican challenger this year in former Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal.

Hinojosa’s office didn’t immediately return a request to comment for this article. The Monitor, a McAllen newspaper, reported the retirement earlier Thursday. It said that Hinojosa had scheduled an announcement for Friday in McAllen.

Hinojosa is the 12th U.S. House member and second Texan to announce a departure from Congress this term. U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, announced in September that he would not seek re-election.

Congressional District 15, which Hinojosa represents, has traditionally been a reliable seat for Democrats. President Obama carried the district by 16 points in the 2012 presidential election.

As the news of Hinojosa’s retirement broke Thursday, names already began to circulate about possible Democrats who could run to replace them. Names floating among state Democratic operatives included: state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez and former state Rep. Veronica Gonzales of McAllen.

At least one women’s Hispanic group, Texas Latina List, which bills itself as a progressive political action committee, has its eye on the 15th District.

Rep. Hinojosa has since made it official. CD15 is a slightly purplish blue. Every Dem got at least 54% of the vote in 2012, winning by at least ten points in each case. It was a much closer call in 2014, with John Cornyn and Baby Bush holding their Dem opponents under 50%, but each Dem still got at least a plurality. I’d be more worried about this in an off year than in a Presidential year, but it’s still not a sure thing. I’m rooting for a viable female candidate to emerge – it would be awesome to have the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas in a year where we (hopefully) elect the first female President. Trail Blazers has more.

Elsewhere in Democratic primary news, we have our second contested legislative primary in Harris County, and our first involving an incumbent, as Edward Pollard announced on Facebook and Instagram his candidacy for HD137, against two term Rep. Gene Wu. Pollard’s tag line is “The Conservative Democrat”, which ought to make for an interesting debate. Yes, I’ll be doing primary interviews, which will be on me before I know it, so you’ll get a chance to hear what that means and whatever else I think to ask about. By the way, today is the start of filing season. I’ll do my best to keep track of who is filing for what.

State wants birth certificate lawsuit dropped

I don’t know about that.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday asked a federal district judge to dismiss a lawsuit that claims a state agency violated the U.S. Constitution by denying birth certificates to U.S.-citizen children of immigrant parents.

Attorneys with Paxton’s office said that the Texas Department of State Health Services, which is being sued by 17 families living in Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties, has sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment and cannot be sued in federal court because it has not waived that right, according to court documents.

The immunity extends to interim DSHS Commissioner Kirk Cole and State Registrar Geraldine Harris, who are also named as defendants in the suit, Paxton’s office argues.

A spokesperson in Paxton’s office would not discuss the filing further, saying the “motion speaks for itself.” A spokesperson for the health agency was not available to comment.

See here and here for the background. This sounds specious, more like an ideological argument than a legal one, and a get-out-of-jail-free card if it’s upheld. But I’m not a lawyer, so what do I know?

[Lead plaintiffs’ attorney Jennifer] Harbury said Wednesday afternoon that her team would file a response after reading the state’s motion. The problem appears more widespread than just the families in the lawsuit, she said.

“What I know is there is a very large number of people who are afraid to come forward,” she said.

That would not surprise me. The Chron and the Observer have more.

Marijuana reform advocates get their day

This will be worth watching closely.

Rep. Joe Moody

Four proposals to relax penalties for possessing pot have been scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, setting up what is sure to be a closely-watched debate in the middle of the legislative session.

It will not be the first Texas committee hearing on marijuana bills, which historically have been introduced and heard, but ultimately killed. This time, however, optimistic supporters will benefit from the makeup of the committee, which this year counts three Democrats and a pro-legalization Republican among its seven members. The panel is led by state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown.

“There’s no question that we’re hopeful that this committee will be especially open to considering these bills,” said Phillip Martin, deputy director of Progress Texas, an Austin-based liberal organization that is helping lead the push. “A lot of the legislators on the committee understand the importance of the issue.”

The legislation is still unlikely to win final approval in the conservative-dominated Legislature, but Martin and other members of the bipartisan Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy coalition say committee approval would represent a step forward in a years-long process.

The coalition has collected nearly 15,000 signatures of support and plan to deliver them to the Capitol on Wednesday, Martin said.

Here’s Progress Texas’ report on the bills that will get a hearing on Wednesday.

Rep. Joe Moody’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 507

  • The most effective civil penalties bill filed
  • Changes possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to a civil penalty – similar to jaywalking or not wearing a seat belt
  • Anything over one ounce of marijuana remains a class B misdemeanor

Rep. Harold Dutton’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 414

  • Would change any marijuana possession less than one ounce to a Class C Misdemeanor
  • Makes possession a simple ticketable offense you could pay
  • Punishments increase if ticketed multiple times in a year

Rep. Gene Wu’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 325

  • Possession of less than .35 ounces of marijuana becomes a Class C Misdemeanor
  • Makes possession a simple ticketable offense you could pay
  • Punishments increase if ticketed multiple times in a year

Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 1115

  • Rather than potentially being arrested when carrying up to four ounces of marijuana an officer will only give a citation; However, the person charged is still responsible for appearing in court at a later date.
  • Does not reduce the penalty of marijuana possession (Class A or B misdemeanor), which can still result in jail time.

Also up for a hearing is Rep. David Simpson’s full scale legalization bill. As the story notes, the Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy coalition is putting most of its energy into Rep. Moody’s civil penalties bill. Bills to legalize medical marijuana have been referred to a different committee and don’t appear to have as much traction. The bills to be heard Wednesday face opposition from local sheriffs and an uncertain future in the Senate. Still, just having a hearing for them is something. I look forward to seeing how it goes. For further reading on the subject, see this interview with Rice sociologist William Martin.

Simpson files pot legalization bill

From the inbox:

Rep. David Simpson

Texas State Representative David Simpson (R-7) introduced a bill Monday that would strike all language pertaining to marijuana from Texas Statutes, thus abolishing marijuana prohibition in the state.

Representative Simpson’s HB 2165 harkens back to a time when government did not intervene in the control of marijuana. And you know what? It wasn’t a very scary time. The prohibition of marijuana was notoriously built on misinformation and hyperbole rather than facts and results.

When these laws haven’t worked for 80 years, is it really such a novel concept to simply remove them?

76% of Texans recently responded to a UT/Texas Tribune poll saying they favor reducing criminal penalties for marijuana or allowing medical access to marijuana. How many of them would support the government getting out of marijuana altogether?

It may be a surprise to some that a Republican from deep-red East Texas is reclaiming marijuana prohibition as a small government issue, but it shouldn’t be.

“It disturbs me greatly that Republicans would distort the principles of small government, fiscal responsibility, and personal liberty in such a way that they could support the failed principle of marijuana prohibition any longer,” states Ann Lee, co-founder and executive director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

Simpson lays out his Christian-based principles for treating marijuana as any other agricultural product in this TribTalk piece. I wonder how many people (Rep. Simpson included) realize that his “if marijuana is illegal then God made a mistake” rhetoric comes from the late comedian Bill Hicks. This isn’t an argument against HB2165, mind you, I’m just amused. I have no objections to the basic philosophy here, and I think current academic research supports it, but I’d probably want to treat pot more like beer than like, say, corn. It’s still a good idea to keep it away from minors, for example. I’m pretty sure Rep. Simpson would agree with that. Grits, Unfair Park, and Hair Balls have more.

Having said all that, I seriously doubt Rep. Simpson’s bill has enough support to get anywhere. I won’t be surprised if it never gets a committee hearing, or never gets past being left pending in committee. I mean, look at how tentative and constricted the recently introduced medical marijuana bills are, and ask yourself if this is a Legislature that’s ready to throw all the existing prohibitions on marijuana out the window. as Rodger Jones notes, despite more grassroots support for loosening pot laws, nearly all current Republican legislators support the status quo. There’s also likely to be strong opposition to Simpson’s bill – this Chron story quotes a spokesperson from the Sheriff’s Association of Texas vowing to fight against this bill or any other like it. Again, this is not an argument against HB2165, just some perspective. It’s surely better to view it as something to work towards, rather than something that can pass right now. If you see it that way, then some transitional steps are in order, as they’ll do some good now and will make the ultimate leap to decriminalization later that much less daunting. One such recently filed example comes from Rep. Gene Wu. Here’s the press release he sent out recently:

Representative Gene Wu (D-Houston) filed a bill to create a new Class C misdemeanor penalty range for the possession of small amounts of Marijuana. House Bill 325 will make possession of up to 0.35 ounces or 9.9222 grams of Marijuana punishable by a fine of no more than $500.

“Arrests for very small amounts of Marijuana drain law enforcement resources and divert valuable time away from addressing more serious public safety concerns, like Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Domestic Violence offenses, ” said Wu. “Defendants serving time for low-level Marijuana possession add to jail overcrowding and deplete county coffers without adding to overall community safety. Counties must also provide attorneys to all indigent defendants charged with Class B Marijuana possession; but not for defendants in Class C cases.”

Currently in Texas, possession of up to two ounces or less of Marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor; punishable by up to 6-months in jail, and a fine of up to $2,000. In 2013 alone, Texas law enforcement made over 70,000 arrests for Marijuana possession, accounting for over half of all drug arrests and nearly 8% of all arrests.

HB 325 would lower the penalty ladder for the smallest amounts of Marijuana possession creating a sensible distinction between possession of very small amounts of Marijuana and larger amounts. The bill would also give police officers the option to either arrest or issue a ticket to a person possessing a small amount of Marijuana. Officers would still retain the ability to arrest and search if they choose. Like other Class C offenses, repeat offenses (4 or more) would elevate the charge to a Class B misdemeanor.

“Texas has one of the highest rates in the nation in terms of people arrested for marijuana possession, and some of the harshest penalties,” said Wu. “This bill takes a sensible and cost-effective approach to low-level Marijuana possession, and provides a fiscally responsible solution to an overloaded criminal justice system. I invite my colleagues to support this measure and sign on as co-authors.”

Not nearly as sexy as treating pot like lettuce and carrots, but it is a step in the right direction and it likely has a chance of passage. One can support both HBs 2165 and 325 without contradicting oneself.

Tesla brings the lobbyists

Nothin’ but good times ahead if you’re a Republican-connected lobbyist, thanks to Tesla and the auto dealers.

Locked in a brawl with auto dealers, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is unleashing some of the most powerful lobbyists and consultants in the state to persuade lawmakers to make it easier for his company to sell electric cars in Texas.

Ahead of the legislative session, Musk has assembled an all-star team of politically well connected forces at the Capitol – almost all entrenched with top Republican leaders – to lay the groundwork for a full Tesla blitz come January.

Musk, the California billionaire who also heads the rocket company SpaceX, is pressing the Legislature to allow Tesla to bypass traditional dealerships and sell cars in Texas through its stores.

An attempt failed last session, as Tesla was squashed by a network of state auto dealers and their own team of well-connected hired guns.

This time, according to lawmakers and lobbyists, Musk has revved up the Tesla influence machine to make sure he doesn’t lose again in Texas.

“Tesla is going to move in force to bring significant resources to this debate this session,” said state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican who last session supported the electric-auto maker’s push. “You’re going to see a lot of pressure on these young new members in the Legislature, a lot of movement on the floor and the backrooms to get people convinced this a good deal for Texas.”

Playing the influence game at the Texas Capitol is nothing new for Musk, who employed a team of lobbyists last session and parachuted into Austin on two occasions to personally push for legislation to help SpaceX and Tesla.

He is set to hit Texas again next month – two days after the legislative session starts – to headline a state transportation forum.

But this time, he’ll be coming back to Texas just months after disappointing state officials with a decision to pass up on the Lone Star State for Tesla’s $5 billion lithium-ion battery plant in favor of Nevada.

And the company’s opponents know it.

“They tried to use the giga­factory as leverage to get their foot in the door, but the gigafactory was never coming to Texas,” said Bill Wolters, president of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association. “I can’t imagine what kind of tale they can spin.”

See here for the background. I’ve compared Tesla’s efforts to those of the microbreweries, but this is where the analogy breaks down, since they never had a phalanx of gold-plated lobbyists at their disposal. Anyone in the vicinity of the Capitol next spring ought to keep an eye out on the sidewalk as you walk around – you may see stray $100 bills lying around. We’ll see whose lobbyists are mightier. PDiddie has more.

How the voter ID law was and was not enforced in Harris County

Greg does some investigative reporting on how the new voter ID law was actually applied in Harris County in the 2013 election.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

So what percentage of voters ended up signing an affidavit? … and what does it suggest about how the law was administered?

To get that answer, I obtained records from the Harris County Clerk and commenced tabulating the data. I’ll be spelling out some of these results in the days ahead. For now, here’s the big-ticket takeaway: voters in Harris County were qualified to vote by election workers in extremely different ways depending on the location that the voter voted at. In several locations, the law was followed in a manner as close to thorough as might be humanly possible. In others, it didn’t appear that election workers had gotten the figurative memo about the new law. In a plurality of Early Vote locations, the results were mixed.

For introductory purposes, a small sketch of the data: Trini Mendenhall Sosa Community Center in Spring Branch had signed affidavits from 0.43% (as in less than 1%) of its voters. Meanwhile, neighboring West Gray Multi-Service Center saw 15.1% of its voters sign affidavits. In other words: if you wanted to experience “no problem” with the law, then Sosa was the place for you to go vote. If you wish to subject yourself to more scrutiny by election workers, then head to West Gray. Discrepancies like this were rampant in Harris County. And I’m willing to guess that it’s not the way that architects of the law intended it to be administered.

What I find interesting about these results is that, for all intents and purposes, nobody can say for certain that the new law was followed in any kind of meaningful way. It’s that conclusion that makes it impossible to say “there was no problem” with the law since the law effectively wasn’t administered. I have little doubt that election workers knew to ask for a photo ID and that there may, indeed, be only the most minor of problems exhibited with this task during a low-turnout election. But if election workers weren’t checking the names on the ID against the names on the voting rolls, then there should be no assurance that they were doing anything meaningful with those IDs.

Through the remainder of this week, I’ll be rolling out some of the findings, and raw data to demonstrate how this played out in Harris County. Ultimately, I think there are findings that are likely to concern both advocates of the law as well as opponents. And while I’m not a believer in the necessity of the law, I think there are several things to review before the law goes full scale in a Presidential year.

Read the whole thing. Greg was an Election Clerk this year, so he got that training he’s talking about, and he is a staffer for State Rep. Gene Wu, so he’s in a position to help influence any potential changes to this law, assuming it doesn’t eventually get thrown out by the courts. For my own experience, I voted early twice at the West Gray location, once in the November election and once in the December runoff. In November I showed my ID and voted as always, no muss and no fuss. In December, the election clerk at West Gray noticed that my voter reg card has my full middle name and my “III” suffix while my drivers license has just my middle initial and no suffix, and had me sign the affidavit. So even at the same location, there were variations. I look forward to seeing the rest of Greg’s data.

Filing deadline today

Before I get into the details of who has or hasn’t filed for what, I have a bone to pick with this AP story.

Perhaps what the candidate filings reveal most is the relative strength and depth of the political parties in Texas. Four top Republicans are in a fierce battle for lieutenant governor, three for attorney general and five for agriculture commissioner.

Three Republicans are in the race for the Railroad Commission, an entry-level statewide office that gives the winner routine access to the state’s biggest campaign donors as well as the governor and attorney general. The only competition in the judicial races is for open seats vacated by Republican incumbents.

If a party can be judged by the number of people who want to lead it, Republicans certainly remain popular and thriving. Most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections.

Democrats have yet to field a complete slate of statewide candidates and have just one candidate each for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and land commissioner. The only potentially competitive race pits failed gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman against Jim Hogan for agriculture commissioner.

San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor, was first elected to the Texas House in 1990 and to the Senate in 1999. She has the most campaign experience among Democratic candidates followed by Davis, who won her Senate seat in 2008. Freidman and attorney general candidate Sam Houston have run statewide offices before, but have never won.

That lack of experience and the shortage of candidates reveal the shallowness of the Democratic bench after 20 years out of power. There are young Democrats who have statewide potential, such as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, but they’ve decided like some others to sit out the 2014 race, likely to let others test the waters before they take the plunge themselves.

I’ll stipulate that the Republican side of the ballot has more overall experience. For obvious reasons, it’s the only primary that features statewide officeholders. But to say “most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections” overstates things considerably. Outside of the Lt Governor’s race, most of their candidates are current or former legislators, and I submit that decades of winning a gerrymandered legislative district is hardly indicative of statewide potential.

To break it down a bit more scientifically, the GOP field for the non-Governor and Lt. Governor races are made up of the following:

Railroad Commissioner: One former State Rep and three people you’ve never heard of.
Land Commissioner: One scion of a political dynasty making his first run for office, and some other dude.
Ag Commissioner: Two former State Reps, the Mayor of a small town, and a state party functionary who lost a State Rep race in 2004.
Attorney General: A State Senator, a State Rep, and an appointed Railroad Commissioner that defeated a Libertarian in 2012 in the only election he’s run to date.
Comptroller: A State Senator, a State Rep, and a failed gubernatorial candidate.

Not exactly Murderer’s Row, is it? What they have first and foremost is the advantage of their party. That’s no small thing, of course, but it has nothing to do with anything any of them has done.

That said, most current statewide officeholders made the initial leap from legislative offices – Rick Perry and Susan Combs were State Reps before winning their first statewide elections, with Combs spending two years in Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office in between; Todd Staples and Jerry Patterson were State Senators. Dems have plenty of legislators that would make fine candidates for state office – two of them are currently running – but it’s a lot harder to convince someone to give up a safe seat for what we would all acknowledge is an underdog bid for higher office. How much that changes in 2018, if at all, depends entirely on how well things go this year. If we have one or more breakthroughs, or even if we come reasonably close, you can bet there will be plenty of candidates with “decades of experience winning elections” next time.

Anyway. As we head into the last day of candidate filing, the local Democratic ballot is filling in nicely. Dems have at least one candidate for nineteen of the 24 State House seats in Harris County. Four are GOP-held seats – HDs 126, 127, 128, and 130 – and one is HD142, which is currently held by Rep. Harold Dutton. Either Rep. Dutton is just dithering until the last day, or he’s planning to retire and his preferred successor will file sometime late today. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. The two additions to the Democratic challenger ledger are Luis Lopez in HD132, who appears to be this person, and Fred Vernon in HD138, about whom I know nothing. Dems also now have two Congressional challengers, James Cargas in CD07 as expected, and Niko Letsos in CD02, about whom I know nothing.

By the way, for comparison purposes, the Harris County GOP is only contesting 14 of 24 State Rep seats. The three lucky Dems that have drawn challengers so far are Rep. Gene Wu in HD137, Rep. Hubert Vo in HD149 – we already knew about that one – and Rep. Jessica Farrar in HD148, who draws 2011 At Large #3 Council candidate Chris Carmona. I have to say, if they leave freshman Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HD144 unopposed, I would consider that an abject failure of recruitment if I were a Republican. Beyond that, the thing that piqued my interest was seeing the two worst recent officeholders – Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners – back on the ballot, as each is running for the two At Large HCDE Trustee offices. Putting aside their myriad and deep incompetencies while in office, the only possible reason these two clowns would be running for the HCDE is that they want to screw it up for the purpose of killing it off. As we know, Dems have Traci Jensen and Lily Leal running for one of those seats. Debra Kerner is the incumbent for the other seat and I believe she has filed but with petitions, so her status hasn’t been finalized yet. All I know is that we have enough chuckleheads in office already. We don’t need to put these two retreads back into positions of power.

Statewide, Texpatriate noted on Saturday that Dale Henry has filed to run for Railroad Commissioner, which will pit him against Steve Brown. Henry ran for this office as a Dem in 2006, 2008 (he lost in the primary to Mark Thompson), and 2010. Henry is a qualified candidate, but he’s a dinosaur in terms of campaign techniques and technologies. That might have been charming in 2006 or 2008, but it’s way out of place in 2014. All due respect to Dale Henry, but I’ll be voting for Steve Brown. We are still waiting to see how many statewide judicial candidates we’ll get. Word is we’ll have them, but who and how many remain unknown. Finally, between the Harris County primary filings email and the TDP filings page, I see that Dems have at least two candidates for the 14th Circuit Court of Appeals – Gordon Goodman for Place 7, and Kyle Carter, who was re-elected to the 125th Civil District Court in 2012, for Chief Justice. There are still slots on that court and on the 1st Court of Appeals, so I hope there are more of these to come. As always, if you are aware of other filings or rumors of filings, leave a comment and let us know.

House passes redistricting bills

They accepted a couple of amendments but otherwise the process wasn’t much different from the Senate or the House committee.

A daylong debate on redistricting maps in the Texas House drew frustration from Democrats and growing concern from Republicans on Thursday as House leaders agreed to some amendments to one of the maps.

Gov. Rick Perry called the 83rd Legislature into special session in hopes it would ratify — without changes — the interim redistricting maps that a panel of federal judges drew for use in the 2012 elections. The Texas Senate did that earlier this month. But the House deviated, adopting three amendments on the state House district map moments after gaveling in.

The chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, told members from the start that he would be accepting “small, necessary tweaks” to the maps providing they meet specific criteria — unite communities of interest, are agreeable to members of neighboring districts and are in accordance with the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

In a matter of minutes, Darby approved, and the House adopted three such amendments. Two would swap out precincts between members of neighboring House districts. A third, by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, brings all of Texas A&M International into his district.

Beyond that, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, was among a handful of members who began questioning Darby, puzzled as to why amendments were being accepted when, he said, members had been told “any change made would open the door for other problems.” He also cited the fact that the amendments hadn’t come through committee.

Darby restated his criteria, adding that the amendments he’s accepting don’t impact geography or the demographic makeup of districts. With that, more members began filing amendments. Two more, which also swap out precincts between neighboring districts, were adopted.

Those were the only three that were accepted. I commend you to read Greg and Texas Redistricting for the full blow-by-blow; see also this post for the map that was planned.

Three points of interest. One, not all redistricting fights fall along party lines.

“You’re a liar,” state Rep. Pat Fallon of Frisco yelled at his colleague, state Rep. Bennett Ratliff of Coppell.

Other House Republicans tried to hush Fallon, but his fury wouldn’t ebb.

“Touch your buddy Gene because you’re in the same party as him,” a red-faced Fallon loudly continued, as Ratliff walked away and placed a hand on state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, as he passed by.

Asked a few moments later what the dust-up was all about, Fallon said simply, “Forgot.”

The hollering could have stemmed from a quiet dispute brewing during the redistricting debate. On Thursday afternoon, some tea party-affiliated members of the House had been upset about an amendment that removed one of Ratliff’s primary opponents from his district. The amendment, which passed earlier in the day without much trouble, put tea party favorite Matt Rinaldi into the safely Democratic district of state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Temper, temper. And I must say, I too would buy a Touch Me, I’m Gene Wu’s Buddy t-shirt, too. Someone get on Cafepress.com and make this happen, OK? Oh, and as Greg says, I’d take Bennett Ratliff for my team if the Rs don’t want him, too.

Two, the ball is now in the Senate’s court.

The Senate, which is scheduled to meet Friday, still has to sign off on changes made Thursday by the House to its maps before sending the bills to Perry for his signature. Sen. Kel Seliger, the upper chamber’s redistricting chief during the special session, has said he plans to accept changes the House makes to their political boundaries.

I guess it wouldn’t have killed them to accept some cleanup amendments after all.

And three, the missing man makes an appearance:

MALC chair State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer and African-American and Hispanic members asked the AG to have someone testify at redistricting hearings. But the AG’s office ignored those requests and redistricting committee chair, State Rep. Drew Darby, said that he would not use subpoena power to require attendance.

In fact, Darby said today in response to questioning that he never even asked the AG’s office to come testify voluntarily.

All that might be logical if the AG’s office took that position that it was the office’s job to defend whatever maps emerged, not to give advice on them.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, Abbott’s office appears to have met with the House Republican caucus on at least two occasions, including today during an early afternoon break in floor action.

And after emerging from today’s meeting – reportedly with Abbott’s chief deputy – House Republicans seem to have experienced a major sea change in their willingness to accept even minor agreed amendments, such as one offered by State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to adjust for the fact that a mountain runs oddly through HD 77 in El Paso. Whereas before the break, redistricting chair Darby had agree to five relatively minor amendments (one of which was proposed to unite a parking lot at Texas A&M International with the school itself), afterwards he would take none.

Now, since what was said in the meeting isn’t known, it’s not clear that advice from the AG’s office caused the change. But it’s at least a little awkward – both legally and optically – that the AG’s office seems to be acting as counsel for the Republican caucus rather than the Legislature or the state as a whole.

It also seems to have left the Legislature in a precarious position legally.

Too chicken to talk to non-Republicans, I guess. Or maybe he’s just forgotten how. But at least he’s consistent. Go read the rest of that post, it’s all good.

And again, now that redistricting is done for the day, the House can be like the Senate and get to what really animates them, which is making life miserable for women.

House Bill 60 would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical clinics, and regulate how doctors administer pills for medical abortions.

HB 60 would originally have required women receiving medical abortions to take the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended dosage, which physicians have said is dangerously high. The committee substitute introduced in the hearing reduced the dosage to that recommended in obstetrician-gynecologist guidelines.

The bill’s Senate version, Senate Bill 5, passed Tuesday night after an amendment removed the 20-week ban. State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who sponsored the House legislation, has said she hopes to revive the ban in the Senate by passing HB 60.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, questioned Laubenberg about the justifications for the 20-week ban, which is premised upon research that suggests fetuses at 20 weeks of gestation can feel pain. Though research indicates fetuses respond to stimuli at that point of pregnancy, there is no consensus on whether they feel pain.

Farrar also asked whether HB 60 would deprive women of choice, to which Laubenberg responded, “The Legislature should err on the side of life, not death.”

[…]

Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, asked why the legislation included no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Rape is “a horrible violation to a woman,” Laubenberg said, adding that the state should focus on punishing the perpetrator but still not allow abortion if the fetus is past 20 weeks.

[…]

Matthew Braunberg, an ob-gyn from Dallas, said the legislation would needlessly limit women’s access to abortions despite what he said were decreased medical risks, compared to carrying a pregnancy to term.

“The last thing we want is for them to go to Doctor Google to figure out how to do this,” he said.

Carol Everett, an anti-abortion advocate, said the bill would help women by raising standards for abortions.

“This is a health protection for her,” she said.

I think David Dewhurst let the cat out of the bag on that, Carol. Kudos for sticking to the script regardless. Maybe someone should tell Rep. Laubenberg that if this bill passes and a bunch of clinics close because they can’t meet the needlessly onerous requirements that HB60 would impose, then an awful lot more women are going be be horribly violated, since there wouldn’t be any place for them to get an abortion before 20 weeks anyway. But hey, it’s all about protecting women, since they obviously don’t know what’s best for themselves. Besides, rape victims don’t get pregnant anyway, am I right? Pro-choice advocates are hoping to run out the clock, which has as much hope as any other strategy. Good luck gumming up the works, y’all.

At the Battleground Texas kickoff meeting

I attended the Battleground Texas kickoff meeting for Houston on Saturday. Houston was one of the last stops on their statewide introduction tour. I estimated about 300 people in attendance; BGTX gives it as 350, which is probably the more accurate number since they have the sign-in sheets. Numerous elected officials were also in attendance, including most prominently Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Gene Green, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, and Rep. Gene Wu. I took the picture embedded in this post from the back of the room; I couldn’t quite fit the whole crowd in, but you get the idea.

If one of their goals was to get people excited about their mission, they succeeded in spades – you could feel the energy in the room. Battleground Texas has done an excellent job spreading the word about themselves, aided in part by a national media that’s fascinated by the idea of former Obama campaign people coming to Texas (“of all places”, they don’t quite say but which you can detect anyway) to work the same magic here as they did in Ohio and Florida. Last week there were stories in the Wall Street Journal and the Economist; BGTX Executive Director Jenn Brown, who led the meeting, said that a reporter from Bloomberg News was also in the state. That doesn’t necessarily mean that local media will follow – I see nothing in the Chronicle, and a search of Google news says that only KTRK, which also had a preview/analysis story by Dr. Richard Murray, provided any reports. Well, we did identify scarcity of media coverage as an obstacle in the breakout session I was in.

The BGTX message is simple: The best way to get someone to vote is for a neighbor or someone they know to talk to them about voting and ask them to vote. Connect what’s important to them to the campaign issues and what the candidates stand for, and help them see that their vote really does matter. Easier said than done, of course, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before that in registering voters and identifying those who will likely by receptive to your message, but that’s what it comes down to, and it’s what was done with so much success elsewhere. We know the potential for this exists in Texas – one of the things that BGTX people like Jeremy Bird have been saying all along is that one of the reasons why they came here to do this work is that there had been so much done in Texas and by Texans in 2012 to help with efforts in other states, and so much desire on the part of these people to be able to do that here. Jenn Brown gave the statistic that 400,000 phone calls had been made in Texas to Florida during the 2012 campaign. The people power is here, it just needs to be tapped.

But again, it’s the personal touch that matters. We went to a party at the home of a couple we’ve been friends with for several years last night. I was telling one of the hosts about the BGTX meeting at the party. He had actually traveled to Ohio (where he’s from) for the week leading up to Election Day last year, working with the Obama campaign on GOTV efforts. But he hadn’t heard about Battleground Texas. I promised to email him information about it. I took that as a reminder of the importance of telling people about BGTX as the first step. Not everyone gets the same information you do, so don’t assume everyone has heard about the same things as you. Start spreading the news now, because it most definitely isn’t too early.

House debates its budget

As you know, yesterday was Budgetpalooza in the House.

The House budget puts more money into public education and less into health and human services than a Senate proposal that passed the upper chamber last month.

“No one is or will be entirely happy with this bill, but there is something for everyone this year,” House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said two weeks ago after his committee approved its version of Senate Bill 1.

[…]

It will be a strikingly different scene from the Senate, which passed its budget proposal last month after about four hours of discussion. Traditionally, senators do not amend their budget plan from the Senate floor. State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, offered an amendment on the bill related to school finance but then withdrew it.

After the House passes a budget bill, both the House and Senate will appoint conference committees to resolve differences between the two proposals.

Neither budget completely reverses last session’s $5.4 billion in cuts to public schools, a goal many Democrats have said is a priority. Several House members have filed amendments attempting to put more money into schools.

Other legislators hope to amend the budget to put more money for uninsured care or specific types of care.

An amendment from state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, aimed at increasing payments to health care providers serving Medicaid patients could spark a protracted discussion over whether Texas should accept federal dollars made available through the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicaid.

House members could also see themselves drawn into debates on hot-button cultural issues. State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, has several amendments aimed at reducing state funding earmarked for “alternatives to abortion” and putting it toward other women’s health services. An amendment from state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, would block funding for “gender and sexuality centers” at higher-education institutions.

A group of Republican freshmen have filed more than three dozen amendments that would take money away from various state programs and agencies and putting the funds into TRS-Care, the group health insurance program for the Teacher Retirement System, which is projected to have a shortfall by 2016.

TRS-Care has since said that they did not support the freshlings’ effort to de-fund various things on their behalf. A number of those hot-button amendments concerning abortion and women’s health were subsequently withdrawn in a bit of bipartisan detente, which if nothing else should make the whole thing go by a bit more quickly. There are still a lot of other issues to be debated, not all of which get much attention but all of which matter a lot to the people affected by them, and a few messages to be sent. One of the messages sent was about vouchers.

About eight hours into the House’s debate on the state budget Thursday, lawmakers in the lower chamber sent a clear signal about their position on private school vouchers.

An amendment from state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, that would ban the use of public dollars for private schools, passed 103-43 with bipartisan support.

“What this amendment basically does is say that you cannot use public money to support private institutions with vouchers,” said state Rep. John Otto, a Dayton Republican who is the House’s head education budget writer.

As they say, this is a big deal. Even Tom Craddick voted against vouchers, amazingly enough. If you listen carefully, you can hear Dan Patrick grinding his teeth. The Observer, Trail Blazers, and Texas Politics, which notes that despite this vote vouchers aren’t quite most sincerely dead yet, have more.

In the end, the House debated the budget well into the night, until almost 10 PM according to Rep. Gene Wu, who heroically live-tweeted the whole thing; BOR liveblogged it as well. Given the big vote in favor, it’s likely that nothing too horrible happened, but we’ll assess the damage later. It’s on to conference committee from here.

Senate passes its budget

Let the damning with faint praise for this jerry-rigged excuse for not adequately funding our needs yet not eviscerating them as badly as last time begin.

Adjusted school spending chart from Rep. Gene Wu

The Texas Senate approved a $195.5 billion two-year budget Wednesday, with Democratic state Sens. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Sylvia Garcia of Houston voting against the spending plan.

Senate Bill 1 spends $94.1 billion in general revenue — the part of the budget lawmakers have the most control over — a 7.7 percent increase over the 2011 budget. Spending would increase in most areas, including education and health care, but still drew criticism from those who argued that more spending is needed in light of the size of last session’s budget cuts and the amount of money now available.

“We did what we had to do last session, but we can be proud of what’s included in this budget,” said the chamber’s chief budget writer, state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

Even those who supported the bill said it remains a work in progress. The budget leaves untouched nearly $12 billion available in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Members in both the Senate and the House are eyeing the fund for proposed water infrastructure and transportation projects.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on its version of the budget Thursday, with that version likely to reach the House floor in early April. Both chambers will then appoint conference committees to formally meet and resolve differences between the two proposals.

Williams said after the vote that he expected there would be more agreement than differences between the House and Senate budgets.

Davis offered the sharpest criticism of the proposal, accusing Republican senators of using an ongoing school finance lawsuit as an excuse to avoid properly funding public schools this session. Senate Bill 1 adds about $1.5 billion in funding to public education. Lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from education last session. Various lawmakers have predicted that the lawsuit will prompt a special session on school finance in 2014.

“We are expected to fix the finance problem, and I believe that we can start to do that work today,” Davis said.

Sen. Davis’ statement on SB1 is here. She wasn’t the only critic of the bill.

Williams acknowledged the Senate’s budget wouldn’t bring school funding back to levels that existed before lawmakers whacked $5.3 billion from basic aid and grants in 2011. But Williams, R-The Woodlands, said senators put back nearly $1.4 billion. He predicted higher property values and economic growth would allow lawmakers to fill more of the hole before the session ends in late May.

“While we still have a ways to go, we can make more progress as this whole process moves forward,” said Williams, who heads the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, though, gently chided Williams for worrying more about staying within a constitutional spending limit and preserving state savings than about educating children. The state is expected to have nearly $12 billion in a rainy day fund by August 2015. GOP leaders currently plan to spend about $4 billion of it to create two infrastructure improvement revolving-loan funds.

“If there are the votes to go into the rainy day fund for water or for transportation, I will be one advocating we also use the rainy day fund to help those children,” said Ellis, who ran the budget panel in the 2001 session.

Ellis said the budget falls about 3 percent short of funding current services enough to cover population growth and inflation.

The embedded chart, courtesy of Better Texas and Rep. Gene Wu, is a reminder that we’re still behind on what we had been spending on public education. I do hope that more will be added as the process continues and better revenue estimates come in, but there won’t be a game-changer. A statement from the Texas AFT is here, a statement from the TSTA can be found at BOR, a statement from Sen. Jose Rodriguez is beneath the fold, and Stace has more.

(more…)

Senate committee restores some money to public education

Emphasis on the “some”.

Texas public schools would get back a chunk of the $5.4 billion in state funding they lost two years ago under a budget proposal adopted by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.

But they probably should not expect much more than the $1.5 billion the committee added to the 2014-15 state budget, said Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

“It is going to be very difficult given the other demands we have in the budget to add any more,” said Williams.

Williams plans to pay for all the demands, including water projects, highways and some form of tax relief, without exceeding the constitutional spending cap. That would leave about $1 billion of projected state revenue over the next two years unspent. Lawmakers could exceed the cap with a simple majority vote in both the House and the Senate, but there is little appetite within the GOP to do so.

Many Republicans are also reluctant to increase education spending until the Texas Supreme Court rules in the pending school finance litigation. A district court judge found the school finance system unconstitutional earlier this month.

“Based on the politics of the state, we will not see the $5.4 billion that was cut last time go back into” education, said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

More from the Trib:

The money would come on top of the proposed $35.1 billion in general revenue for public education, which unlike the 2011 budget did, accounts for new students expected to enroll in the state’s public schools. The additional funding approved Thursday would also restore some of the $5.4 billion reduction in state funding that lawmakers passed during the last legislative session. The full Senate must still approve the Finance Committee’s recommendation.

During Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers on the committee suggested they might fight for more education funding, including money for measures like early college high school programs and the Student Success Initiative, which provides remedial help for students who fall behind.

The $40 million for pre-kindergarten — which Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands and chairman of the committee, referred to as a “down payment” — would replace a fraction of the $200 million in competitive grants the Legislature eliminated in 2011 for full-day programs for low-income children. The funds would be distributed proportionally to school districts based on eligible student populations.

Again, note the partial and incomplete nature of this. The Observer highlights one salient feature.

Finance chair Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) said the new amount would mean “no net revenue losses for any school district for 2014.

You may recall that HISD was talking about raising their tax rate to make up for an operational shortfall next year, which was caused by the 2011 budget cuts. If this extra funding, which keep in mind only represents 28% of the $5.4 billion that had been cut in the first place, prevents the need for that, it would at least be something. That question hasn’t been answered yet.

Anna Eastman, president of the Houston Independent School District’s board, called the Senate panel’s decision a step in the right direction.

“It’s good news and I’m glad to see the state making this effort, but I still think it doesn’t come close to restoring the large cuts made two years ago,” Eastman said. “We’re at a place right now where we have a big gap to fill to maintain what we’re doing.”

Until that gap is closed, Eastman said, HISD cannot consider hiring new teachers or taking on additional costs.

Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker said lawmakers can restore all $5.4 billion cut from school spending in 2011 “and meet other important state needs without raising anyone’s taxes.”

Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, who also serves on Finance, disagreed, citing other pressing needs, finite dollars and a constitutional spending cap. The $1.5 billion increase is recommended on top of the committee’s starting-point budget, which accounted for student enrollment growth.

“We don’t have those dollars. It’s not a choice,” said Patrick, R-Houston. Asked whether it may be an option to exceed the spending cap, which would require a majority legislative vote, Patrick said, “Not in my world.”

So yes, it is a choice, just not one that Dan Patrick wants to make. But it’s very much a choice, and don’t let anyone mislead you about that.

Assuming this survives the full Senate and the House, this is good in the sense that it’s not bad, but it’s not good in a quantitative sense. How can it be, when schools are still down almost three quarters of the original total? I’ve been trying to come up with a snappy analogy for this, but really, what it comes down to is simply the fact that the Lege cut a bunch of money last time, and has now restored just enough of it to keep things from getting worse, but not enough to make anything better. We’re stuck with this until the Supreme Court rules on the school finance appeal. Just take a look at that chart I embedded above of inflation-adjusted dollars per student, provided by the office of Rep. Gene Wu, and you’ll see how little that $1.5 billion will do.

On a side note:

The committee left just one piece of the education budget in limbo: funding for a new charter school authorizer that would be created under Sen. Dan Patrick’s Senate Bill 2—a seven-member appointed board to oversee the state’s charter schools.

It was a telling diversion in an otherwise agreeable budget meeting to watch a pair of Democratic senators try to make Patrick, the usually tight-fisted tea party favorite, defend the extra cost of his school reform plans.

Dallas Democrat Royce West began by saying he wasn’t convinced Texas should create a separate board for authorizing charter schools. That’s already the State Board of Education’s job, West said. He worried about putting charter school approvals in the hands of an unelected board and questioned how they’d be held accountable.

The move clearly irritated Patrick, who said he wished West had told him about his reservations sooner. (West said he already voted against it once in their workgroup, which should have been sufficient notice.) Members of the charter school authorizing board, Patrick said, would probably need Senate confirmation, and might answer to the State Board of Education—though those details aren’t final yet.

SB 2 is still pending in Patrick’s education committee after a hearing last week. The Legislative Budget Board has estimated Patrick’s bill would carry other huge costs to the state, growing every year—from $24 million in 2014, up to $55 million in 2018. Those costs include students coming from private or home-schooling into a charter school, new funding for charter school buildings, and state employees to oversee all the new schools.

Today’s argument focused on what the new Charter School Authorizing Authority would cost.

“Why would we turn to more government as a solution?” Houston Democrat John Whitmire asked Patrick. “Because I know that’s not your philosophy; I do listen to you closely.”

“Instead of fixing the agency that is in charge of this responsibility, you want to turn and create a new bureaucracy, more state employees, and I promise you this [charter school authorizer] budget will not remain where it is,” Whitmire said.

“I will bet you, whoever evaluates us,” Whitmire said, “this will be a measurement by the folks that advocate less government, that we’re creating another governmental entity. It is what it is.”

I wouldn’t take that bet.

It was a very good year for Gene Wu

Rep.-elect Gene Wu has some big shoes to fill in HD137, but I am confident that he will do a fine job of it.

Rep. Gene Wu

Wu relates much of what he plans to do and why he sought public office to his experiences growing up in Sharpstown.

His family emigrated to the United States from China when he 5.

“When my family first moved here we were dirt poor,” he said.

His parents settled first in Odessa and then found an apartment in Houston’s Parkgreen Apartments near the Sharpstown Golf Course.

Wu’s father, Zhengyi Wu, worked as a nurse. At age 45, he pursued a new dream, and started attending law school. He now has his own immigration law practice.

His mother, Anmei Tang, is an electrical engineer.

“The first thing we did was save money for a house,” Wu said. “My parents worked long, crazy hours.”

The family ultimately found an affordable house in Sharpstown’s Crane Park subdivision. Wu’s parents still live there today.

[…]

Wu said he knows the idea of saving world sounds idealistic. But he’s unapologetic about his goals.

“It’s still possible to save the world, and it’s still worth saving,” he said.

During his graduate studies, Wu completed a fellowship at the Texas Workforce Commission, where he worked on improving community college and technical school standards.

After graduation, Wu became the chief clerk for the House Higher Education Committee for the Texas Legislature.

Wu came to the conclusion that while his master’s degree in public policy helped prepare him to create law, he needed a better understanding of how the law is enforced.

“Half the coin was missing,” he said.

Wu was drawn to the trial advocacy program at South Texas College of Law and earned his law degree there in 2008.

Shortly after graduation, he joined the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

“I went to trial on my second day in the office,” Wu said. “I won that trial.”

Throughout his time with the DA’s office, Wu volunteered in the community. He has been president of the Houston 80-20 Political Action Committee, a board member with community advocacy organization OCA Greater Houston, a mentor and teacher for Skills for Living, a tutor for at-risk youth at Sharpstown High School’s Grad-Lab and Twilight programs and a trainer for Neighborhood Centers Inc.

“The quality that stands out about him is his dedication to the community,” said Sacha Lazarre, senior director of civic engagement for Neighborhood Centers.

For the past five years, Wu has trained Neighborhood Center volunteers to help community members complete their citizenship applications during monthly citizenship forums.

“I think he loves what he does,” Lazarre said. “He’s passionate about it. And he takes time to bring in stories to make it relevant to (the volunteers). That’s appreciated.”

All this and he got married to KTRK’s Miya Shay this year, too. Having interrupted his blogging to help get Wu elected, Greg Wythe will continue to interrupt his blogging to work for Wu in Austin. Needless to say, I expect great things. May 2013 be an even better year for Rep.-elect Gene Wu than 2012 was.

Precinct analysis: The range of possibility

Here’s a look at selected districts in Harris County that shows the range of votes and vote percentages achieved by Democratic candidates. I’ve thrown in the Obama and Sam Houston results from 2008 for each to provide a comparison between how the district was predicted to perform and how it actually did perform. Without further ado:

HD132 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 22,336 43.52 Ryan 20,945 40.63 Bennett 20,454 40.35 Obama 21,116 40.29 Oliver 19,873 38.52 08Obama 18,886 39.60 08Houston 18,653 40.60

HD132, which runs out to the western edge of Harris County, incorporating parts of Katy, is a fascinating district. For one thing, as Greg showed, there are these fairly large blue patches out that way, surrounded otherwise by a sea of red. Much of that blue is in HD132, which is why this district wound up overperforming its 2008 numbers by about a point. As Greg said in reply to my comment on that post, you could build a pretty reasonable Democratic district out that way if you were in control of the mapmaking process. In fact, the non-MALDEF intervenors in the San Antonio lawsuit did propose a map that drew HD132 as a lean-Dem district. It wasn’t addressed by the DC court in its ruling denying preclearance on the maps, so we won’t see any such district this decade, but just as the old 132 came on the radar in 2008, the new HD132 should be viewed as an attainable goal, perhaps in 2016. Take the continued population dynamics of Harris County, add in a good candidate and a concerted voter registration/GOTV effort, and I think you could have something.

HD134 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 36,781 48.07 Ryan 35,431 45.96 Johnson 36,366 45.35 Obama 34,561 42.49 Bennett 29,843 39.47 Oliver 25,886 33.79 08Obama 39,153 46.50 08Houston 33,667 42.60

I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a district with a wider vote spread than HD134. A couple things stand out to me. One is that four years ago in the old 134, President Obama ran five points ahead of Democratic judicial candidates. I haven’t done the math on the judicials this time around – even in Excel/Calc, it gets mighty tedious after awhile – but I’d bet money that’s not the case this year. I’d call this evidence of Obama losing ground with Anglo voters in Texas, as he did nationwide. Note also that Adrian Garcia did not carry HD134 this time around, unlike in 2008 when he was the only Democrat besides then-Rep. Ellen Cohen to win it. (Michael Skelly, running in CD07, carried the portion of HD134 that was in CD07, which was most but not quite all of it.) Garcia’s overall performance was a couple of points lower this year, but this shows how tough HD134 really was, something which I think wasn’t fully appreciated by most observers. Ann Johnson ran hard and did a good job, but the hill was too steep. I’m sure HD134 will remain a tempting target, but the name of the game here is persuasion, not turnout, and that’s a harder task.

HD135 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 23,507 44.91 Ryan 21,620 41.26 Obama 21,679 40.37 Bennett 20,786 40.26 Morgan 20,997 39.63 Oliver 20,119 38.42 08Obama 20,430 38.70 08Houston 19,912 39.50

Another not-on-the-radar district that wound up being better for Dems than you would have expected. As with HD132, this would be a good place to focus registration and turnout energies going forward.

HD137 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 15,682 67.58 Ryan 15,498 65.88 Wu 15,789 65.72 Obama 15,899 65.25 Bennett 14,875 64.63 Oliver 14,700 62.62 08Obama 16,755 62.30 08Houston 16,008 62.40

I haven’t looked this deeply at all of the Democratic districts, but the early indicators are that Democratic candidates generally outperformed the 2008 numbers in the districts that were considered to be competitive. Even by the 2008 numbers, HD137 wasn’t particularly competitive, but with a first-time candidate in an open seat against someone who’d won elections in the same general vicinity before and who could write his own check, who knew what could happen. Rep.-elect Gene Wu had a strong showing in a district where all Dems did well. I mean, if Lloyd Oliver outperformed Obama 08, you know Democrats kicked butt in this district.

HD144 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 13,555 57.96 Ryan 12,668 53.96 Bennett 12,382 53.63 Perez 12,425 53.35 Obama 12,281 51.47 Oliver 11,966 51.07 08Obama 11,983 48.00 08Houston 13,129 54.50

The disparity between Obama and Sam Houston in 08 makes it a little hard to pin this district down as overperforming or underperforming. It’s fair to say that Rep.-elect Mary Ann Perez won by a more comfortable margin than most people, myself included, might have expected, and it appears that Obama closed the gap a bit this year. This will surely be a race to watch in 2014, whether or not the district gets tweaked by the courts or the Lege. (The DC court rejected the intervenors’ claims about retrogression in HD144, in case you were curious.) Oh, and I hadn’t thought about this before now, but Perez’s win means that there will need to be a special election for her HCC Trustee position in 2013. I have no idea off the top of my head what the procedures are for that.

HD145 Votes Pct ======================== Alvarado 20,829 68.86 Garcia 19,180 67.67 Ryan 17,860 63.04 Obama 17,890 61.13 Bennett 17,252 61.90 Oliver 16,778 59.22 08Obama 16,749 57.10 08Houston 17,315 61.70

Rep. Alvarado was unopposed, so the percentage shown for her is her share of all ballots cast in HD145. I was a little concerned about the possibility of Republicans maybe stealing this seat in a special election if Rep. Alvarado wins in SD06 – one possible incentive for Rick Perry to shake a leg on calling that special election is that he could then call the special election for HD145 in May if that seat gets vacated, as surely that would guarantee the lowest turnout – but I’m less concerned about it looking at these numbers. Yes, I know, the electoral conditions would be totally different, but still. By my count there were 7,013 straight-ticket Republican votes in this district and 12,293 straight-ticket D votes. I think even in a low-turnout context, that would be a tall order for a Republican candidate.

HD148 Votes Pct ======================== Farrar 25,921 64.56 Garcia 23,776 63.87 Ryan 22,413 59.91 Obama 22,393 57.92 Bennett 21,061 57.80 Oliver 19,848 53.34 08Obama 22,338 57.50 08Houston 21,887 59.20

Rep. Farrar had a Green opponent but no R opponent, so as with Rep. Alvarado her percentage is that of the total number of ballots cast. Again, one’s perception of this district as slightly overperforming or slightly underperforming for Dems depends on whether one thinks the Obama or Houston number from 2008 is the more accurate measure of the district from that year. Given the re-honkification of the Heights, I feel like this district needs to be watched in the same way that HD132 needs to be watched, only in the other direction. I feel certain that if there is to be any change in the makeup of HD148, it will happen a lot more slowly than in HD132, but nonetheless it bears watching. I’ll reassess in 2016 as needed. Oh, and there were 9,672 straight-ticket Republican votes to 13,259 straight-ticket D votes here, in case you were wondering.

HD149 Votes Pct ======================== Vo 25,967 61.12 Garcia 25,056 60.64 Ryan 24,325 58.61 Obama 24,770 57.72 Bennett 23,659 57.64 Oliver 23,337 56.27 08Obama 24,426 55.50 08Houston 23,544 56.30

If you wanted to know why I tend to worry less about Rep. Hubert Vo than I do about some other Dems and districts, this would be why. Anyone who can outdo Adrian Garcia is someone with strong crossover appeal. Note again the general overperformance of Dems here compared to 2008. Consider this some evidence of Asian-American voters trending even more blue this cycle.

SBOE6 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 229,058 43.48 Ryan 216,249 40.88 Jensen 207,697 40.58 Obama 215,053 39.33 Bennett 199,169 38.27 Oliver 188,555 35.69 08Obama 224,088 40.80 08Houston 210,965 40.20

I was hopeful that Dems could build on 2008 in this district, but it wasn’t to be. I think the potential is there going forward, but it will take time and resources. Traci Jensen was a great candidate, who ran hard as the first Democrat in SBOE6 in over 20 years, but there’s only so much you can do in a district twice the size of a Congressional district without a Congressional-size campaign budget.

CD07 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 99,355 43.93 Ryan 93,819 41.30 Obama 92,128 39.13 Bennett 84,451 37.73 Cargas 85,253 37.44 Oliver 79,037 34.83 08Obama 96,866 40.40 08Houston 88,957 39.10

As with SBOE6, a small step back in performance instead of the step forward I had hoped for. Not sure if it was something John Culberson did to enable him to run ahead of the pack instead of lagging behind it as he did in 2006 and 2008, or if James Cargas’ weak performance had something to do with the ridiculously bitter primary runoff he was in. Be that as it may, I don’t expect much if anything to be different in this district in the near future.

Endorsement watch: Wu and Vo

Clearly I was wrong about the Chron ignoring legislative endorsements, as they now have two more to follow Ann Johnson‘s. First up is an endorsement of Gene Wu to be Rep. Scott Hochberg’s successor in HD137.

Gene Wu

We believe that Democrat Gene Wu has the educational background and passion for policy that make him the best candidate to succeed Hochberg.

A former Harris County assistant district attorney, Wu’s experience isn’t limited to the legal arena. With a master’s in public policy from the University of Texas, Wu worked at the Texas Workforce Commission to improve standards for community colleges and technical schools and served as chief clerk for the House Higher Education Committee. These are particularly pertinent areas of experience, given the importance of building an educated workforce and the education budget battles in Austin.

Wu talks about education policy with the specificity of an experienced politician, arguing for proper student-to-teacher ratios, reforming high-stakes testing and improving vocational training. He also offers high praise for schools like KIPP and YES Prep that create a cultural respect for learning, which can often help students more than anything else.

Wu also has a deep connection to his district, regularly volunteering with the Skills for Living program and tutoring at-risk youth at Sharpstown High School. He exhibits an exhaustive understanding of his home turf and hopes to attract the businesses that will serve and support the middle-class families that are the growing base of the area. This is the sort of forward thinking that voters should want for a district that covers areas like Gulfton and Sharpstown.

The Chron has made three endorsements in HD137, having gone with Joe Madden in the primary and Jamaal Smith in the runoff. This was a testament to the depth and quality of the candidates running in the Democratic primary, as they said at the time. I’d encourage you to go back and listen to the interview I did with Wu for the primary, because the qualities the Chron talks about in this endorsement really came through in that conversation. I’ve no doubt at all that Wu will be an excellent representative.

The Chron also endorsed four-term Rep. Hubert Vo for re-election.

Rep. Hubert Vo

Texas House District 149 is one of the most diverse in the state, covering west Harris County from I-10 south to Alief, including Mission Bend. The Democratic incumbent Hubert Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant, reflects the diversity of his district and is the right choice in this election.

In his past races, Vo stood as an attractive alternative to candidates who embodied some of Texas’ worst policy instincts, such as underfunding government services and leaving available federal dollars on the table. Since his first election to the Texas House in 2004, Vo has fulfilled his promises of working to fully fund CHIP, support education and serve local needs at the Legislature. A reliable defender of these important issues, Vo rightfully points out that budget fights will happen every year due to a structural budget shortfall – the kind that we can’t cut our way out of. Voters should appreciate this sort of honest talk from a politician.

One of Vo’s greatest achievements for his district was the creation of the International Management District, located along Bellaire and Bissonnet between Beltway 8 and Highway 6. This district has allowed for reinvestment in local infrastructure and a dedicated focus on attracting businesses. And the district’s success in improving public safety by contracting with the constable’s office and private security has not only bolstered business but created safer neighborhoods.

I’ve been a fan of Rep. Vo’s since his first run for office in 2004. Good guy, good representative, good fit for his district.

Ticket splitters

For better or worse, we live in a polarized world. Often, knowing a candidate’s political party tells you most of what you need to know in a general election. But definitely not always, and this year in particular there are plenty of examples of candidates who aren’t worthy of the support of their partisan brethren (and sistren, as Molly Ivins used to say) as well as a few who for a variety of reasons are able to transcend political barriers. I feel like this year I’ve seen more mixed-company yard signs than I have in years past. Here are a few examples:

My guess is that this homeowner is a Democrat who is also supporting incumbent District Civil Court Judge Tad Halbach, who has a reputation for being one of the better inhabitants of the judiciary.

My initial suspicion was that this was a Republican who prefers Vince Ryan and Adrian Garcia for Harris County. I drove by this location yesterday and there was another sign touting a GOP judicial candidate whose name I have forgotten, so that makes me a little more certain in that assumption.

This one’s a little hard to see – it was late afternoon, I was facing west, and any closer would have put me directly in the sunlight. Anyway, the red sign is for Vince Ryan, and the other one is for GOP judicial candidate Elizabeth Ray.

Greg sent me that one. Probably a Republican crossing over for Gene Wu if I had to guess, but Greg could say for sure.

Another one that could go either way, but as that house in the background is actually a law office, I suspect the sign-placer just likes incumbent judges.

I feel quite confident saying that the person who put out these signs is a Republican, crossing over to vote for Ann Johnson and the HISD bonds. (As well he or she should.) The Halloween decoration nearby is a nice touch.

So there you have it. I don’t have any broad point to make, I just noticed these signs around and thought it would be fun putting something together on them. I have a Flickr set for these pics, so if you find any more examples, send them to me via email or post them on the Off The Kuff Facebook page and I’ll add them in.

All the interviews for 2012

As we begin early voting for the November election, here are all the interviews I conducted for candidates who are on the ballot as well as for the referenda. These include interviews that were done for the primary as well as the ones done after the primary. I hope you found them useful.

Senate: Paul SadlerWebMP3

CD02: Jim DoughertyWebMP3

CD07: James CargasWebMP3

CD10 – Tawana CadienWebMP3

CD14: Nick LampsonWebMP3

CD20: Joaquin CastroWebMP3

CD21: Candace DuvalWebMP3

CD23: Pete GallegoWebMP3

CD27: Rose Meza HarrisonWebMP3

CD29: Rep. Gene GreenWebMP3

CD33: Marc VeaseyWebMP3

CD36: Max MartinWebMP3

SBOE6: Traci JensenWebMP3

SD10: Sen. Wendy DavisWebMP3

SD25: John CourageWebMP3

HD23: Rep. Craig EilandWebMP3

HD26: Vy NguyenWebMP3

HD127: Cody PogueWebMP3

HD131: Rep. Alma AllenWebMP3

HD134: Ann JohnsonWebMP3

HD137: Gene WuWebMP3

HD144: Mary Ann PerezWebMP3

HD146: Rep. Borris MilesWebMP3

HD147: Rep. Garnet ColemanWebMP3

HD150: Brad NealWebMP3

Harris County Sheriff: Sheriff Adrian GarciaWebMP3

Harris County District Attorney: Mike AndersonWebMP3

Harris County Attorney: Vince RyanWebMP3

Harris County Tax Assessor: Ann Harris BennettWebMP3

HCDE Position 3, At Large: Diane TrautmanWebMP3

HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1: Erica LeeWebMP3

Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Sean HammerleWebMP3

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan RosenWebMP3

HISD Bond Referendum: Interview with Terry GrierMP3

City of Houston Bond and Charter Referenda: Interview with Mayor Annise ParkerMP3

HCC Bond Referendum: Interview with Richard SchechterMP3

Metro Referendum: Interviews with David Crossley, Gilbert Garcia and Christof Spieler, Sue Lovell, and County Commissioner Steve Radack

Fall interview season begins tomorrow

I know that we just finished the primary runoffs, but we’re also now more than halfway through August, so it’s time to start doing interviews with candidates for the fall. I’ll be up candid, I don’t know exactly how many interviews I plan to do. For the most part, I don’t anticipate re-interviewing candidates that I spoke to for the May election – I’m already too far behind even if I did want to do that. I’m mostly going to concentrate on area races, but as always things can and do change, so don’t hold me to that. In the meantime, here’s a list of the interviews I did earlier with candidates who will be on the ballot in November:

Senate: Paul SadlerWebMP3

CD07: James CargasWebMP3

CD14: Nick LampsonWebMP3

CD20: Joaquin CastroWebMP3

CD23: Pete GallegoWebMP3

CD27: Rose Meza HarrisonWebMP3

CD33: Marc VeaseyWebMP3

SBOE6: Traci JensenWebMP3

SD10: Sen. Wendy DavisWebMP3

HD131: Rep. Alma AllenWebMP3

HD137: Gene WuWebMP3

HD144: Mary Ann PerezWebMP3

HD146: Rep. Borris MilesWebMP3

HD147: Rep. Garnet ColemanWebMP3

Harris County Sheriff: Sheriff Adrian GarciaWebMP3

HCDE Position 3, At Large: Diane TrautmanWebMP3

HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1: Erica LeeWebMP3

Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Sean HammerleWebMP3

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan RosenWebMP3

You may notice if you click on the Web links above that the embedded audio player no longer works. The code comes from Google, and they unfortunately appear to have disabled it. I should have an alternate solution in place going forward, but just clicking on the MP3 file ought to work for you as well. And of course you can always download it for your iPod or whatever.

I am going to try again to reach Beto O’Rourke and Filemon Vela, but you know how that goes. I’ve given up on Rep. Lloyd Doggett; though I did finally make contact with a staffer before the primary, at this point I doubt there’s any interest on his end. There was a contested primary in CD10, but both candidates were late filers. I am trying to reach Tawana Cadien, who won the nomination, but she has no phone number that I can find and she has not as yet responded to an email I sent. If anyone knows how to reach her, please ask her to drop me a note: kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com.

2012 Democratic primary runoffs

All state results here. Best news of the night was Paul Sadler‘s easy win. Can we please raise some money for this guy?

Congressional results: James Cargas in CD07, Pete Gallego in CD23, Rose Meza Harrison in CD27, Marc Veasey in CD33, and Filemon Vela in CD34. I’m delighted that three quality members of the Texas Democratic legislative caucus will have a shot at serving in Congress next year. As for Filemon Vela, I’m still suspicious of the guy, but we’ll see how it goes.

In the Lege, Gene Wu had another strong showing in HD137, and I feel very good about his chances to win this Dem-favored-but-not-a-lock seat in November. Parent PAC didn’t have any skin in the runoffs, but Annie’s List did, and they went one for two, as Nicole Collier will succeed Veasey in HD95, but Tina Torres lost to Phillip Cortez for the nomination in HD117. That’s a critical race in November.

The biggest surprise of the night was also some good news, as Erica Lee romped to a huge win in the HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 runoff. She won with close to 75% of the vote, so maybe, just maybe, that will be enough to convince anyone who might file another lawsuit that they’d be wasting their time. I truly hope this is the end of it, because this is by far the best possible outcome. Congrats to Erica Lee, to Alan Rosen in Constable Precinct 1, to Zerick Guinn in Constable Precinct 2, and to all the other winners last night. Onward to November, y’all.

UPDATE: Litigation is coming for the HCDE election.

The Department of Education has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to void the May primary and Tuesday’s runoff. Lee, Harris County and both political parties want to dismiss the case, which is ongoing.

Johnson said he had planned legal action on behalf of the 1,400 excluded voters whether he won the runoff or not.

“The whole point of this was to make sure the disenfranchised voters had a voice,” Johnson said.”

I guess it was too much to hope for otherwise.

UPDATE: When I went to bed last night, Zerick Guinn was leading by what I thought was a safe margin. Apparently, not safe enough as today Chris Diaz is shown as the winner by 3 votes. I smell a recount coming.

UPDATE: The plot thickens. Here’s the 10:12 PM update from the County Clerk website, which the last update I saw before I went to bed. See how Zerick Guinn has 2695 votes? Now here is the 12:43 AM update in which Guinn has mysteriously dropped to 2061 votes, which puts him behind Diaz and his 2064. How does that happen?