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Greg Abbott

SB4 at the Fifth Circuit

Hoping for the best as always, but the Fifth Circuit has a way of stomping on that.

Tuesday’s hearing was on whether U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s August decision to block several of the law’s provisions should stand while the case meanders through the court system.

[…]

In late August, Garcia halted several parts of the law, including the provision that requires jail officials to honor all detainers. He also blocked sections that prohibit local entities from pursuing or endorsing “a pattern or practice that ‘materially limits’ the enforcement of immigration laws” and another that prohibits “assisting or cooperating” with federal immigration officers as reasonable or necessary.

But a separate panel in New Orleans ruled the detainer provision could stand until an ultimate determination is made. The panel also determined that law enforcement officers, including campus police, with “authority that may impact immigration” cannot be prevented from assisting federal immigration officers. That ruling is what’s on the books until a decision on Tuesday’s arguments is reached.

Judge Edith Jones, who was appointed to the post by President Ronald Reagan, asked Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller Tuesday about the “endorsement” provision and whether that section of the law was too far-reaching.

“An elected official, like a sheriff or a county judge, certainly have more latitude to speak [against state policies], don’t they?” she asked.

But Keller said the state has modified several times what the definition of “endorse” means and that it applies to actions officials take in a “governmental capacity” to prevent enforcement of immigration laws.

“It has to be a use of government power to sanction or ratify a policy,” he said. “Let’s say an official were to say they disagreed that with the policies underlying SB 4. That would not be sanctioning or ratifying a [government policy].”

Keller also pushed back against the claim that the language of the law was too vague and didn’t provide enough guidance to law enforcement officials. He said the plaintiffs’ own admissions that current practices would be upended should SB 4 go into effect proved they know what the law does and doesn’t do.

“Here plaintiffs have conceded that various policies that they have would in fact be prohibited by SB 4,” he said. “That concession alone means a facial vagueness claim cannot stand.”

But Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union representing the city of El Cenizo, a small municipality in Webb County, said the state of Texas keeps changing it’s definition of what constitutes “materially limiting” cooperation, which implies the state knows the language is flawed.

“One of the critical aspects is that Texas has never been able to settle on an interpretation of the law,” he said. “Every time Texas comes to court, they say it’s obvious what it means for a sheriff to materially limit immigration enforcement. But on the other hand, every time we get to a new court, they change their interpretation, so it’s not clear.”

The panel also raised the issue of whether SB 4 was unconstitutional because immigration enforcement is largely under the purview of the federal government. Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represents several of the plaintiffs, said there is federal guidance on what local law enforcement can do but that SB 4 exceeds that.

See here for the background. The panel is all Republican appointees, with Edith Jones being the worst of the lot, so I can’t say I feel terribly optimistic. But the plaintiffs’ attorneys are as good as they come, and there are previous rulings, including from SCOTUS, to lean on. We’ll know when the Fifth Circuit is damn good and ready to tell us. The Chron has more.

Julian 2020?

He has raised the possibility.

Julian Castro

Texas Democrat Julian Castro confirmed Sunday he is seriously considering running for president in 2020 and former state Sen. Wendy Davis left open the possibility she will take another run at running for governor in 2018.

“I might,” Castro told more than 350 people at a political conference near the University of Texas on Sunday morning. Davis’ comments came at the same event.

Castro, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, said the country needs a very different president than what is in office now and he will spend 2018 weighing a bid. He said the country needs someone “fundamentally honest” in the White House.

“We’ve had too much lying out of the White House,” Castro said.

Well, it’s hard to argue with that. There has been talk of Julian Castro running for President in 2020 – it’s even had an effect on Joaquin Castro’s consideration of running for Governor this year. I’ve no doubt that Julian Castro has been thinking about running since approximately November 9 of last year. It’s mostly a question of how he goes about it. I’ll be happy to see Julian run and will give strong consideration to supporting him, but for now all I care about is 2018.

Speaking of 2018, from the same story:

At the same event, Davis meanwhile left open the possibility that she will be running for governor again in 2020.

The former state senator from Fort Worth said although she was defeated in 2014 by Gov. Greg Abbott, it was before voters knew how far right he would go in supporting legislation like SB 4, which she called the “show me your papers” law that threatens every citizen with brown skin. Supporters of SB 4 have said the legislation was to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities and allow local law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they pull over.

Davis made clear she’s only considering it largely because other Democrats have failed to step forward to run.

“Because no one else is stepping forward,” Davis said when asked by moderator Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune why she was not ruling it out.

I love Wendy Davis. I don’t know how many other Democrats love her at this point. It’s a hard thing, losing an election like she did. This story came out before Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez put her name out there, and I think it’s safe to say that if Valdez gets in, Davis will not. But she’s there, maybe, just in case.

One of the other brand-name candidates who is at least thinking about “stepping forward” is Andrew White, who as this Trib story about the same event notes was criticized by Davis fr being anti-choice. White has since updated his website to address some issues; he says “Roe v Wade is the law of the land, and I respect the law” in the Women’s Health section, which doesn’t tell us very much about what sort of bills he would sign or veto if he were to be elected. You can see what he has for yourself – I’m more concerned about his Border Security position, which doesn’t make any sense to me. Filing begins this weekend, so one way or another we’ll begin to get some clarity.

Lupe Valdez

Now here is some potential-candidate news of interest.

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez has emerged as potential Democratic challenger to Gov. Greg Abbott in 2018.

In an interview Monday, Valdez described herself as “in the exploratory process,” looking at the data for a potential run against the Republican incumbent. “I’ve been approached and I’m listening,” she said.

There are 35 days until the candidate filing deadline for the 2018 primaries, and Texas Democrats are looking for a serious contender to take on Abbott. Valdez said she believes it’s “time for a change” in GOP-dominated state government.

“Too much of one thing corrupts, and I’m a strong believer in a two-party system,” Valdez said. “I’m hoping that enough people are seeing that too much one-sided is not healthy for Texas.”

[…]

Abbott and Valdez have a history. In 2015, they clashed over her department’s policy regarding compliance with federal immigration authorities — an issue that later came up in Travis County, which includes the state capital of Austin. Those debates drove support behind the “sanctuary cities” bill that Abbott signed into law earlier this year.

Valdez has won four elections as Sheriff in Dallas County; she would not be on the ballot in 2018. She would be an exciting and trailblazing candidate, and I would expect her to generate the most buzz out of the gate among the people who have announced at least an interest in the race. She’d be my frontrunner. That said, any Sheriff in a large urban county is going to have some things on their record that will look bad – mistreated inmates, rogue guards, that sort of thing. Greg Abbott will come at her hard over “sanctuary cities”, and he has a lot of money to spend on ads. The fact that she’s a lesbian will make some people mad. She’ll need – we’ll all need – to be ready for that. I don’t know what it will take to convince her to run, but I hope someone is telling it to her. The DMN and the Chron have more.

A big ask for hurricane recovery

Good luck with that. I mean that mostly sincerely.

Texas needs an additional $61 billion in federal disaster recovery money for infrastructure alone after Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, according to a report from the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas that was delivered to members of Congress Tuesday.

Compiled at Gov. Greg Abbott’s request, the report was released on the day the governor traveled to the U.S. Capitol to talk Hurricane Harvey relief with congressional leaders.

Speaking with reporters in the hallways of the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, Abbott said he’d had a “well-reasoned discussion” where he stressed that rebuilding the state’s Gulf coast was in the country’s best national security and economic interests.

“We are asking not for any handouts or for anything unusual, but we are asking for funding that will flood the entire region that was impacted so that the federal government, the state government, and the local government are not going to be facing these ongoing out-of-pocket costs,” Abbott said as he held a binder containing the 301-page report.

The $61 billion is in addition to money the state already anticipates receiving from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from the federal housing department, which distributes disaster recovery grants aimed at long-term rebuilding.

[…]

The requests include:

  • $12 billion for the Galveston County Coastal Spine, part of the larger “Ike Dike,” a barrier aimed at protecting coastal areas from hurricane storm surge.
  • $9 billion for housing assistance in the City of Houston, which would help rebuild 85,000 single and multi-family housing units damaged by Harvey.
  • $6 billion to buy land, easements, and rights-of-way around Buffalo Bayou and the Addicks and Barker reservoirs.
  • $2 billion for “coast-wide critical infrastructure protection,” described as flood control and other mitigation projects around critical public infrastructure such as “power plants, communication networks, prison systems, etc.”
  • $466 million for the Port of Houston to “create resiliency” and harden the Houston Ship Channel.
  • $115 million to repair 113 county buildings in Harris County.

Abbott appointed [John] Sharp, who is the chancellor of Texas A&M University and a former legislator, railroad commissioner and state comptroller, to oversee the commission in early September.

So far, Congress has agreed to spend more than $51 billion on disaster relief in the past two months. But it is unclear what Texas’s share of that money will be, because it will be divided between the states and territories devastated by three deadly hurricanes and fatal wildfires.

It’s not that I disagree with any of this – in particular, I’m rooting for Ike Dike money to be appropriated – but that’s a lot of money, there are a lot of Republican Congressfolk who really don’t like spending money, there are even more Congressfolk who are still mad at some of their Texas colleagues for voting against Superstorm Sandy recovery money, and there’s a lot of money that will need to be spent in Puerto Rico, Florida, and California. Texas’ original ask for Harvey recovery money was a lot less than this, and even that caused some friction from within the Texas caucus when Greg Abbott got a little shirty with his fellow Republicans. Oh, and there’s also the Republican Congress’ track record of not being able to tie their own shoes. So, you know, don’t go using this as collateral just yet.

Speaking of the Texas caucus, their reaction to this was muted.

The initial reaction from Washington officials to the request: Surprise at its size and scope.

That could mean approval of the full amount will be a tough sell with Congress and the White House, coming at a time when hurricane damages to Puerto Rico and Florida, and losses in California to wildfires, are also in line for billions more in federal disaster funding.

But Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, was hopeful. “Just like the Astros, we’re going to get ‘er done,” Weber said in a reference to the World Series.

U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, whose district was hit hard by Harvey, agreed.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of money,” he said, “but it was a lot of storm.”

[…]

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, gave little indication of the prospects for the governor’s request. As for the $61 billion figure, Cornyn said, “We’re working on a number. We don’t have a number.”

Later, Cornyn said in a statement “it’s really important for us to remember that there’s a lot of work that we need to do in responding to some of the unmet disaster needs around the country, starting with Hurricane Harvey in my state.”

Added Cornyn: “The reason I bring that up today is because Governor Abbott of Texas is up meeting with the entire Texas delegation to make sure that we continue to make the case and make sure that Texans are not forgotten as we get to work on these other important matters as well.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was also circumspect about the prospects for Abbott’s request, though he emphasized that the Texas delegation will remain united with the governor in getting the Gulf region all the aid it can from Washington.

“Repeatedly, projections have shown that Harvey is likely to prove to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history,” he said. “The president has repeatedly made direct assurances to me that the administration will stand by the people of Texas.”

As to whether the government might raise or borrow the money, Cruz said, “those discussions will be ongoing.”

Like I said, there are some obstacles. And I have to wonder, how might this conversation be going if Hillary Clinton were President? Harvey or no Harvey, I have a hard time picturing Greg Abbott asking President Hillary Clinton for billions of dollars for our state. I’d make him sign a pledge to quit suing the feds over every damn thing now that he’s come to town with his hat in his hand. Not that any of this matters now, I just marvel at the capacity some of us have for cognitive dissonance. We’ll see how this goes.

Framing the 2018 question

This Chron story asks the question “what might it take for a Democrat to win statewide in Texas in 2018, then never actually engages it.

At the five-top table in the corner at Russell’s Bakery, a northwest Austin restaurant and coffee bar, the conversation among the five women, all self-described as “recovering Republicans,” veered from the signature cinnamon rolls and traffic to President Donald Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“I have two questions I’d like to know the answer to: Is there any way for a Democrat to win a state office next year, and what would it take for some Republicans to lose in this state?” Chrys Langer, a 47-year-old tech consultant and mother of three, asked a reporter sitting at a nearby table. “Politics has taken a turn for the worse, in my opinion, in Austin with the bathroom bill and all kinds of other conservative-male nonsense and in the White House with – well, with Trump being Trump.”

[…]

In interviews with voters of both parties, from Houston to suburban San Antonio to Dallas to Austin, the question comes up time and time again, as does an underlying frustration with governments in both Washington and Austin.

Despite that, more than a dozen political scientists and consultants interviewed by the Chronicle said they see almost no chance that Republicans will lose hold of their 23-year grip on statewide elective offices during next year’s elections, despite the fact that Democrats made notable inroads in Dallas and Houston a year ago when Trump won Texas by just nine percentage points – down from previous double-digit support of Republican presidential candidates.

“There isn’t any way Democrats can win statewide office in Texas, short of some astounding collapse of the Republicans in Washington or Austin,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “Winning is a habit, and so is losing. The Democrats right now have no well-known candidate, no bench, their funding has evaporated, and they have no experience in their volunteer base. The Republicans have all of that.

“And at the end of the day, the Republicans who say they’re not satisfied with things will vote for a Republican because, with the polarization of the political process in recent years, Democrats are now seen as enemies of the state, and they won’t jump across and vote for them.”

Jillson’s sentiments echoed those of all the others, even with the so-called “Trump Factor” that Democrats are touting as a key to some unexpected victories in the November 2018 elections.

“Trump’s approval rating would have to drop into the teens where it might hurt Abbott and Patrick and the other Republicans on the ballot in Texas, and even then I doubt the effect would be significant,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “Even though the Democrats will try to tie Abbott and Patrick as close to Trump as they can, every time they get a chance, they can distance themselves from Trump because Texas voters in a midterm election pay more attention to state issues than Washington.”

Let me begin by saying that Rottinghaus’ statement about midterm elections is not at all in line with the results of at least the last four midterms, at least as far as Republican turnout goes. If you don’t think Texas is reflective of the national climate, I’m not sure what to tell you.

That’s the first thing to think about when considering possibilities for 2018: What will Republican turnout look like? On the one end, we have 2006, where statewide Republican vote totals ranged from 2,135,612 to 2,661,789. On the other end, there’s 2010 where the low was 2,737,481 and the high was 3,151,064 (I’m skipping races where there was no Democratic challenger, such as Comptroller in 2010). In between is 2014, with a range from 2,691,417 to 2,827,584. Which of those years will 2018 most closely resemble? Obviously, a 2006-style year makes for a more competitive environment for Democrats, but it’s not something Dems have control over. What are the factors that might lead one to expect a 2006 versus a 2014 or a 2010? Polls, fundraising, tone of rhetoric and advertising, Presidential popularity, some combination, something else? Put those PhDs to use and give me your thoughts on that.

Then there’s Democratic turnout, which as I’ve noted ad nauseum has remained stubbornly flat since 2002. The high end, with a few exceptions, has been around 1.8 million. If Dems could boost their base turnout by about 600K votes – that is, roughly the boost Republicans got from 2006 to 2010 – they’d be at 2.4 million, which would have been enough to capture the three Commissioner races and two contested judicial seats in 2006. Two point four million represents about two-thirds of the 2016 overall turnout for Dems, which again is about what Republicans achieved in 2010 over 2008. What factors might make a political science professor think such an achievement was possible? We know that the key in Harris County in 2016 was a big increase in voter registration, which in turn led to a much larger pool of Democratic-aligned voters. Dems may not have the infrastructure Republicans have enjoyed, but there are now multiple grassroots organizations – Pantsuit Nation, Indivisible, Our Revolution, the scaled-down version of Battleground Texas – that are out there engaging and registering and doing the things Dems should have been doing all along. Multiple Democratic Congressional candidates continue to excel at fundraising. Again, what do the people that the newsies reach out to for comment think of all that? What if anything might make them think there’s something happening here?

Picking the Republicans to hold serve again is very likely to be accurate, but it’s not very interesting. It doesn’t address the obvious fact that the climate is very different now, so it doesn’t give us any way to think about how that might change what could happen in 13 months – or five months, if you want to ask the same question about the primaries. It will be much harder to answer these questions than it was for me to ask them, and those answers may well change over the next year and a month, but surely we should be asking them anyway. I’d like to think I’m not the only one thinking along these lines.

Michael Sorrell

Gromer Jeffers of the DMN floats a name for Governor.

Michael Sorrell

On the rugged campus of Paul Quinn College, Michael Sorrell, the school’s president, could be the last hope for Democrats to field a credible candidate to face incumbent Greg Abbott in next year’s governor’s race.

Operatives in the Texas Democratic Party have been trying to persuade Sorrell to be the party’s standard-bearer against Abbott. The talks intensified Oct. 13, the Friday before the Texas-Oklahoma football showdown, when Democrats had another meeting with Sorrell in Dallas. They are hoping that he will agree to submit his paperwork for a campaign when the filing period for the 2018 election opens next month.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Sorrell said recently, realizing that I knew about his talks with Democrats.

Sorrell, 50, is largely unknown throughout Texas and has never run for statewide office. At times, he’s been considered a potential candidate for Dallas mayor and Dallas County judge. He’s managed political campaigns and been a part of various bond efforts in the city of Dallas.

[…]

Many big-name Democrats have said “no” or given the party the “I’ll get back to you” brushoff. They include former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio (Julian’s twin), former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio , Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas and Hill+Knowlton Strategies CEO Jack Martin.

The would-be contenders don’t believe Democrats can beat Abbott next year, and the pessimism could hurt the rest of the ticket. Democrats did get some positive news on Tuesday. Andrew White, the son of the late Gov. Mark White, is exploring a run for governor. The Houston investor told Texas Monthly that he would campaign as a Democrat, but try to appeal to moderate Republican voters.

With White on a listening tour, the only Democrats who have announced bids to challenge Abbott are Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne, former congressional candidate Tom Wakely of San Antonio and former Balch Springs Mayor Cedric Davis. They are all candidates not recruited by party leaders and have little chance of beating Abbott.

Enter Sorrell, a native Chicagoan who has been a part of several successful underdog campaigns, including the 2008 election of former President Barack Obama.

Sorrell is not afraid of Abbott, and because he doesn’t have a political office to forfeit, he has nothing to lose but valuable time away from Paul Quinn College and his family. Education would surely be part of his platform, as Democrats want to pound Abbott and Republicans for not putting enough resources into improving public schools. Known as an innovative leader, Sorrell has improved the facilities, fundraising and curriculum at the historically black private college. Paul Quinn is accredited, and he famously turned the football field into an urban farm. Sorrell would be acceptable to the base of the Democratic Party, though it remains to be seen how much he’ll be able to fire up the electorate.

My reaction right now is that I feel the same way about Sorrell as I do about Andrew White, and for that matter Jeffrey Payne and anyone else: I’d like to hear more about who they are, what they stand for, and what they would like to do as Governor. And, you know, that they actually want to run and are committed to winning, however unlikely that is. Payne has crossed that bridge; we’ll see about Sorrell and White and the others. At first glance Sorrell looks mighty impressive, so I hope he is giving this serious consideration. HBCU Digest has more.

Andrew White

We’ll see about this.

Andrew White

Houston investor Andrew White—the son of the late Texas governor Mark White and one of the small boat heroes of Hurricane Harvey—plans to launch an exploratory bid for governor in the 2018 elections this week. Although White wants to run as a Democrat, he aims to appeal to moderate Republicans who are frustrated with the state’s leadership on issues like the bathroom bill.

“What we’re trying to do is look beyond the issues and try to figure out who are the people leading us,” White says. “What kind of people are leading us? Are they people who are politically expedient, making short-sighted decisions? Are they people who are appealing to fringe elements of their party, the 200,000 to 300,000 fringe voters in their primary who represent less than 1 percent of the population of Texas, or are they willing to stand up and do what’s right?”

White says his favorite phrase is, “Do right and risk consequences,” the motto of Sam Houston. White’s father used that as part of a speech urging the Legislature to raise taxes during a 1986 financial crisis. Lawmakers raised taxes to prevent making drastic cuts to public schools, higher education, and social services, but it cost then-governor White his re-election bid.

“It worked out for the people of Texas. It didn’t work out for his career,” White says of his dad. “That’s the problem here. We have to have politicians who are willing to lose their job to do what’s right.”

The best example of that dearth, White says, is the so-called bathroom bill. When Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick forced a special session, Governor Greg Abbott put it on the agenda. Supporters of the bill, which ultimately died in the special session, said it would keep predatory men out of women’s restrooms, but it was largely seen as an attempt to discriminate against transgender individuals and as a political swipe at the LGBTQ community. Abbott and Patrick have not ruled out resurfacing the issue in any future special session or when the Legislature reconvenes in its 2019 regular session.

“The moderate Republicans are looking at their leaders and finding out they don’t represent their beliefs,” White says. “The old Republican party was pro-business and pro-jobs and ‘keep the government off my back.’ So what’s the bathroom bill? It’s an over-reaching government program to tell you that you need to bring your birth certificate into the bathroom. It might cause us to lose every Super Bowl, every national championship game—not to mention, how could Amazon consider a second headquarters in Texas if we’re having this argument right now? How many jobs do you lose? The sacrifice we would have to make over something that has zero data to support it is bizarre.”

Like I said, we’ll see. I’m glad to see someone with a brand name express an interest in the race, and he’s already got the right message on the bathroom bill. Beyond that, I’m going to need to hear a lot more, and I’m going to need to hear some good answers. It’s not just that “conservative Democrat” doesn’t excite me, it’s that we’ve tried this strategy of wooing “moderate” Republicans before, in the last two elections, and we don’t have a whole lot to show for it. In a world where base Democratic turnout is at parity with base Republican turnout, that kind of plan makes sense. In a world where their base is a million voters bigger than ours, it’s a proven loser.

So that’s what I mean when I say I need to hear more. What message does Andrew White have for Democratic voters? “Sanctuary cities”, access to health care, voting rights, criminal justice reform, public education – I’m just getting started. White now has a Facebook page and AndrewWhite.com up, though they are both bare bones at this time. The bathroom bill stuff is a good start. I hope he builds on that. The Trib has more.

How about those price gouging complaints?

You can’t rush these things.

Best mugshot ever

Within weeks of Hurricane Harvey making landfall, Texans lodged more than 3,000 complaints against hundreds of gas stations, hotels and grocery stores, accusing them of selling such essentials as gasoline or water at exorbitant prices.

Despite promises from Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott to hold price gougers accountable, few of those complaints have resulted in prosecution, or even an initial investigation, records obtained by the Houston Chronicle show.

When a state of disaster is declared, Texas law prohibits businesses from charging highly inflated prices for necessities. The law is designed to protect consumers who may need to stock up on food, gas or water, or those who need a hotel room to escape a natural disaster.

Several consumers contacted by the Houston Chronicle said they filed complaints because they believed the state would go after the businesses aggressively. State officials say they are taking the accusations seriously, but it takes time to determine whether the complaints are legitimate.

“We are not going to frivolously or unadvisedly enter into any legal action with any company or any entity in any case, even in the instance of price gouging,” said Marc Rylander, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. He said more legal actions, such as lawsuits, could be filed in coming days.

Paxton’s office received more than 3,340 price gouging complaints against more than 1,000 companies from Aug. 25 to Sept. 8, records show. About 790, or 24 percent, of those came from the Houston area.

At the end of September, Paxton’s office had launched investigations into 82 companies and filed three lawsuits.

Paxton’s office said there now are more than 5,000 complaints logged in its system. The increase comes from consumers reporting excessive pricing for repairs or rebuilding of flood-damaged homes.

Rick McElvaney, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said there often are not enough lawyers in the attorney general’s office to cull through all the complaints. It also can take many weeks before a lawsuit is filed.

“The attorney general filing three lawsuits within the first two weeks was pretty quick,” McElvaney said. “But I am in a wait-and-see approach to see how many more they will do.”

So it’s a little early to say whether this is A Thing or not. Fair enough. It would be nice to know how things proceeded after Ike and Rita, or how long these things normally take in other states, so we might have a better idea when to check back. I don’t want to cry wolf so I’ll be patient for now, but not for long. Paxton, like Abbott before him, has no trouble being first in line to file a lawsuit against the feds when it suits his purposes, so he deserves no benefit of the doubt on this, a core function of his office. If he doesn’t show some results in a timely fashion, we need to hammer him for it.

Another property tax rate dustup

I have four things to say about this:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to ask city council on Wednesday to sidestep the voter-imposed revenue cap by approving the same property tax rate as last year.

According to City Controller Chris Brown, the city would need to cut the property tax rate by about one fifth of one cent to comply with the revenue cap. The difference would mean about $7 next year to the average Houston homeowner, but the potential political damage to Turner could be much more.

Council must set the tax rate at its Wednesday meeting, but no specific rate was listed on the council agenda and no explanatory backup material was provided to council members until Monday night. Several council members, informed of Brown’s Monday afternoon memo outlining the mayor’s plan, responded with an incredulous, “What?”

The information angered the mayor’s critics and confused his allies on the council a week before voters begin heading to the polls to consider a crucial $1 billion bond that would cement Turner’s landmark pension reforms and another $495 million in city improvement bonds.

To comply with the revenue cap, Brown said, the council would need to set the tax rate at 58.421 cents per $100 of assessed value, not leave it at last year’s 58.642 cents. The difference to the city general fund, he estimated, is $7.9 million.

“I’d love to think of it as a misunderstanding,” Councilman David Robinson said. “Conspicuously on the agenda today it was not disclosed, so it certainly raised a lot of questions. Call it, what – $8 million? It sounds like a very small amount to have a standoff about.”

[…]

Turner’s spokesman Alan Bernstein said Monday afternoon that the mayor’s proposal to leave the rate flat did not rely on invoking the disaster declaration language, but hours later acknowledged that clause is the basis for keeping the same rate.

“The mayor clearly said at this meeting, the press conference with the governor and everybody, ‘We are not going to be invoking the disaster clause,'” Brown said late Monday. “So, now they’re saying they’re going to do it. OK, they can do that. My opposition is not if they do it or don’t, my opposition is that they do it and nobody knows about it.”

A Monday evening memo from interim finance director Tantri Emo said the charter not only allows the mayor to invoke the disaster clause to collect an extra $7.9 million for Harvey expenses, but also provides no process by which Brown is required to verify the tax rate. Therefore, Bernstein added, it is not relevant that Brown cannot verify the city’s estimated $1.1 billion in general fund damages from Harvey before federal and insurance reimbursements.

“Since he can’t independently validate them, he’s not counting them,” Bernstein said. “Well, we’re counting them, and we feel like he’s not interpreting this all correctly. We’re certainly not busting the tax cap. The mayor disagrees with the controller’s conclusion.”

1. Let’s get one thing straight up front: This is not in any way an “increase”. This is because leaving something the same as it was before is not an increase, in the same way that my remaining the same height does not mean that I have gotten taller even if for some reason I was supposed to shrink. One of the Council members quoted in the story referred to this as an “increase”, and you can be sure others will echo him. Don’t fall for it.

2. I don’t know what was going on in the Mayor’s office with this, in particular with the peculiar lack of communication followed by the about-face on their rationale, but this was handled badly. They should have been up front about the fact that all their calculations were based on leaving the tax rate the same. Which, let’s be clear, in a sane non-revenue-cap world is exactly what would have happened without anyone even noticing that it was a thing that was happening. Bring it up early on, during the (successful) standoff with Greg Abbott, and there would be nothing more to it by now. Like I said, I don’t know what they were thinking, but this is a mess of their own making, and they need to clean it up.

3. More to the point, this was a missed opportunity to drive home the message that the revenue cap is stupid, harmful policy. If we didn’t have a revenue cap forcing this on us, would anyone have proposed a tax rate cut right now? Can you imagine it: “Hey, let’s make a tiny little cut to the tax rate that will have no effect at all on anyone but will cost the city eight million dollars at a time when we’re up to our necks in hurricane recovery expenses”? It’s stupid policy that forces us to make stupid choices. The revenue cap needs to go.

4. All that said, I think CM Robinson has the right answer. If this were the Lege, as Mayor Turner surely knows, they’d have solved this by delaying payment of an invoice or two from this accounting cycle to the next one, thus making the “deficit” disappear in a puff of magic pixie dust. I have to believe that the city can do something similar if it comes down to it.

Abbott loses nativity lawsuit

Merry secular Christmas!

A federal judge ruled against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision two years ago to remove a mock Nativity display from the Texas Capitol that advocated the separation and church state.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled late Friday that Abbott “violated [the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s] clearly established First Amendment right to be free from viewpoint discrimination in a limited public forum.”

It all started in late 2015 when the Freedom From Religion Foundation placed a “winter solstice” display in the Capitol basement. The exhibit featured a cardboard cutout of the nation’s founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty looking down at the Bill of Rights in a manger.

Abbott ordered its removal, calling it a “juvenile parody” and writing that the “Constitution does not require Texas to allow displays in its Capitol that violate general standards of decency and intentionally disrespect the beliefs and values of many of our fellow Texans.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the decision. The FFRF press release sums up:

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks for the Western District of Texas – Austin Division, ruled that Abbott violated FFRF’s free speech rights.

FFRF had placed a duly permitted display celebrating the Winter Solstice and Bill of Rights Day, in response to a Christian nativity at the Texas Capitol. The display, depicting founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty celebrating the birth of the Bill of Rights (adopted Dec. 15, 1791), had the requisite sponsorship from a Texas legislator.

Abbott, as chair of the Texas State Preservation Board, ordered FFRF’s display taken down only three days after it was erected, lambasting it as indecent, mocking and contributing to public immorality.

“Defendants have justified removal of FFRF’s exhibit by arguing the exhibit’s satirical tone rendered it offensive to some portion of the population. That is viewpoint discrimination,” writes Sparks in a 24-page ruling. The court also held that a reasonable official in Governor Abbott’s position would have known that removing FFRF’s display based on its viewpoint would violate FFRF’s First Amendment rights, thus FFRF can sue Governor Abbott in his personal capacity.

“It is ‘beyond debate’ the law prohibits viewpoint discrimination in a limited public forum,” Sparks ruled.

Sparks did not find that Abbott’s actions violated the Establishment Clause, but also ruled in FFRF’s favor that FFRF has the right to depose the governor for one hour. Abbott had fought the request for a deposition.

I’ve read the decision and I’m a bit unclear as to what the deposition is about, but I believe it’s because there is an ongoing claim over Abbott violating FFRF’s free speech rights. I’m sure there will be appeals, so one way or another, this isn’t over. It is a reminder that if you’re going to allow religious-themed displays that you like on government property, you’re going to have to allow religious-themed displays that you don’t like. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, if you want to go digging for it. Trail Blazers has more.

Jeffrey Payne makes it official

Democrats have their first candidate for Governor.

Jeffrey Payne

The first reaction by many Texans to Saturday evening’s announcement by Jeffrey Payne as the first officially declared Democratic candidate for Texas governor is likely to be: “Who?”

But Payne, a businessman who owns a gay bar in Dallas among other ventures, is focused on the “what.”

And what Payne sees before him is the potential for a Democratic outsider to finally begin turning the tide against Republicans in Texas politics. He’s the first Democrat to officially announce for a spring primary expected to include at least three candidates.

He sees a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment among Texans fed up with what they see as dysfunction in Austin. He sees a lot of anti-Donald Trump backlash. He also sees the potential to rally the sizable LGBT community in Texas to mobilize like never before in the wake of continued efforts to pass a bathroom bill. And he sees a lot of disenchanted, disenfranchised Texans who might be attracted to an outsider promising big change.

Even so, Payne’s chances of an upset against popular Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott are a long shot at best, in a state where Democrats have not won a statewide race in two decades – and where conservatives still rail against gay men like Payne.

But in a year when the Republican party if engaged in a civil war between the tea-party conservatives in control and moderates who think they have gone way too far right for most Texans, Payne and his supporters insist a November surprise is possible.

“I am tired of politics as usual in Texas,” said Payne, 49, making his first run for public office and facing Abbott’s whopping $41 million in a race where he pledged to invest $2.5 million of his own money, without much of any likely party support.

See here and here for some background. As you know, there’s been an endless stream of articles about how Texas Dems have been looking everywhere for a top-drawer candidate for Governor. Payne has an interesting backstory, and if he were running for a legislative office he’d be considered a pretty good catch. But as a first-time candidate running against a guy with unlimited money and good poll numbers, coming off a 20-point win in 2014, Payne is not anyone’s idea of that candidate. I can’t claim to be excited about him. But at least he has the guts to run, and that’s worth more than any amount of wishcasting.

My advice to Jeffrey Payne, for what it’s worth, is to emulate what Beto O’Rourke is doing. Get out there and talk to some voters, especially in places where Dems are not often seen. It won’t get any national press, but it ought to get some local coverage, and who knows, some of that Beto grassroots mojo might rub off. It can’t hurt, and it will at least offer a counter to the inevitable campaign treasury comparison stories that will follow. Also, too, take seriously Abbott’s intent to woo Hispanic voters. Spend some time in South Texas and the Valley, listen to what people are saying, and make all of the obvious points against Abbott. Lastly, if and when you do have some company in the race, take the primary seriously, too. Aim for high turnout, and to get people excited about November. That’s advice I’ve already given to O’Rourke, and would give to any gubernatorial hopefuls. We have a pretty good idea by now of what doesn’t work. May as well try something else.

What the Harvey needs are from the state

It’s not just about recovery. The long term needs, including mitigation against future events like Harvey, is where the real money will need to be spent.

More than one month after Harvey’s deluge hit, local officials, including Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, testified at a state House of Representatives Appropriations Committee hearing that more than $370 million worth of debris removal and repair work on more than 50 government buildings has strained local coffers, necessitating quick aid and reimbursement from the federal or state government.

They also emphasized what likely will greatly exceed the costs of immediate recovery: how to prepare for the next storm. That could include billions of dollars for large-scale buyouts, a third reservoir on Houston’s west side, a reservoir on the Brazos River in Fort Bend County and hundreds of millions of dollars to jump start bayou improvement projects that have slowed in recent years without federal funding.

“There’s going to come a time where we have taken all the money from the feds, we have gotten all the money we’re going to get from the state, and we’re going to have to decide: What kind of community do we want to be?” Emmett said at the hearing.

Harvey’s record-smashing rainfall and floods damaged more than 136,000 homes and other buildings in Harris County and killed nearly 80 people across the state.

The Texas House Appropriations Committee and Urban Affairs Committee met at the University of Houston on Monday to understand public costs and where reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. Congressional appropriations were being directed in the storm’s wake.

Emmett, Turner and Fort Bend County officials testified, as did Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, who is coordinating the state’s recovery efforts. The heads of several other state agencies also testified.

The hearing came just three days after Gov. Greg Abbott visited Houston and presented Turner with a check for $50 million. The check almost immediately was spoken for, Turner said, mostly for debris removal and insurance costs.

Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Houston, said Harvey, in theory, qualified as the “perfect reason” to use the state’s so-called “Rainy Day Fund,” a savings account comprised of billions in excess oil and gas taxes.

Abbott had indicated as much last week but said he would tap existing state emergency funds and reimburse them from the Rainy Day Fund when the Legislature next meets in 2019.

“Before the Legislature acts, we need to ensure what the expenses are that the state is responsible for,” Zerwas said.

Yes, that would be nice to know. There were other hearings this week as well.

The first order of business, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told the House Natural Resources Committee, needs to be a flood control plan for the entire state — and the Gulf Coast in particular.

The Texas Water Development Board is already in the process of crafting a statewide flood plan, with the help of $600,000 state lawmakers gave them earlier this year. Lawmakers haven’t yet promised to back any of the projects that end up in the plan.

Emmett, a Republican and former state lawmaker, said Harris County intends to put together its own flood control plan in the meantime, add up the costs of its recommended projects, then see how much the federal and state government want to contribute. He said he’ll be the first to push for a local bond package to make up the difference.

Property taxes are “the most miserable tax created,” Emmett said. “But it’s what we’ve been given to work with so we don’t have a choice.”

Emmett said Harris County’s plan likely will include another major dam to catch runoff during storms and relieve pressure on two existing reservoirs, Addicks and Barker. Those reservoirs, which filled to historic levels during Harvey, flooded thousands of homes that may not have been inundated with additional protections.

Emmett and the city of Houston’s “flood czar,” Stephen Costello, suggested the state tap its savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, to pay for such a project, estimated to cost at least $300 million. (Gov. Greg Abbott has said lawmakers can tap that fund in 2019 or sooner if they need it for Harvey relief; so far, he has written Houston a $50 million out of a state disaster relief fund.)

Costello said Texas should also consider creating a multi-billion dollar fund to support flood control projects similar to one the state’s voters approved in 2013 for water supply projects.

So far all of the talk is constructive, and even Dan Patrick is doing his part. The real test will be whether we follow up on any of this when the Lege reconvenes. Also, while this doesn’t directly answer my question about the SWIFT fund, but it does clearly suggest that it’s not intended for this kind of infrastructure. Which makes sense, given when it was created, but I had wondered if there was some flexibility built in. I would hope there would be plenty of support for a similar fund for flood mitigation.

Now is not a good time for HHSC to be dysfunctional

And yet here we are.

Under Charles Smith, the longtime ally of Gov. Greg Abbott picked to lead the state’s Health and Human Services Commission, Texas’ government health care infrastructure is hemorrhaging veteran employees and facing criticism for its response to the humanitarian crisis caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Dozens of experienced senior staff members have left the agency since Smith took over last year. Current and former employees attribute the exodus to widespread dissatisfaction with the executive commissioner, who they say lacks technical knowledge of the agency and pushes a political agenda backed by the governor.

Interviews with 11 current and former long-serving health commission staff, ranging from senior executives to mid-level managers, paint a picture of a state agency in disarray, with veteran staff clashing regularly with Smith and his supporters in the governor’s office. The internal conflict has spurred a wave of resignations, leaving the agency with a void of talent that critics say is hampering the state’s ability to aid victims of Hurricane Harvey.

“It’s hard to watch,” said one former high-ranking health commission official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of an ongoing professional relationship with the health commission. “Anybody with any knowledge or experience is not going to stay.”

[…]

Critics point to the agency’s actions in the month after Hurricane Harvey as evidence of its dysfunction.

Specifically, sources inside and outside of the commission told the Tribune that the agency was slow to act in providing guidance and assistance to Texans affected by Harvey who qualify for public programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Doctors have complained that basic information, such as whether displaced Medicaid patients could seek care outside of their insurance network or get prescription medications refilled, was slow to emerge from the agency, and advocates for low-income Texans were frustrated to see a flurry of revisions to information posted on the agency’s website as victims sought government assistance.

Others pointed to the delay in rolling out disaster food stamps benefits. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25, and the health commission began rolling out disaster food stamps on Sept. 13, nearly three weeks later, but only in some counties. Houston, Corpus Christi and other areas that suffered some of the most extensive damage from the storm were not included in the initial rollout.

By comparison, when Hurricane Ike struck Galveston in 2008, then-Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins announced the agency would provide emergency food stamps five days after the storm made landfall.

“When I see the response to Harvey, I am quite concerned about the level of expertise in the agency,” said one former commission official who has closely followed the hurricane response. “This stuff is not rocket science. We’ve had disasters before. There are templates for this.”

The Texas State Employees Union said this week that falling employee morale and a shortage of workers has hampered the state’s ability to provide recovery after Hurricane Harvey. Union officials say the health commission has lost nearly 11 percent of its eligibility operations staff — the workers who help connect Texans with public benefits.

In a statement for the union, Rashel Richardson, a caseworker in Houston, asked, “How are we supposed to work this much forced overtime week after week while our homes have been destroyed? How are we supposed to concentrate and get people services when we need services ourselves? It’s as if the state has no sympathy for workers who lost everything.”

There’s more, so read the whole thing. Not that there’s ever a good time for such a large agency that affects so many people to be dysfunctional, but in the aftermath of a huge natural disaster that has done so much damage? That’s a really bad time. Of course, HHSC has been a problem child for a long time, so none of this should be a big surprise. On the other hand, the HHSC under Greg Abbott has been particularly hostile to women’s health, so it’s all good as far as he’s concerned.

You don’t have to attend those tax rate hearings now

They’re not a thing any more.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday said he would withdraw a proposed property tax rate hike after Gov. Greg Abbott handed him a check for $50 million to help fund the city’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey.

That also likely means few public hearings on the proposed rate hike, which would have been the first from City Hall in two decades.

  • The first was held last Monday, and featured a few fireworks.
  • The second hearing remains scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m., since the governor’s check (which matched the $50 million Turner had intended to collect from raising taxes) was delivered too late to change the meeting time.
  • Council on Wednesday will consider cancelling the third hearing, which had been set for Oct. 11 at 9 a.m.

Turner initially had announced plans to enact an 8.9 percent tax rate hike, noting that a voter-imposed cap on property tax collections allowed him to propose a one-year exemption in the event of a federally declared disaster. Such a hike would produce about $113 million in additional revenue.

[…]

Some council members opposed to the increase said they believed the mayor lacked the votes to pass it. And if it had passed — days before the start of early voting — many at City Hall believe the rate hike could have angered voters enough to threaten the city’s plans to issue $495 million in general obligation bonds in November, in addition to $1 billion in bonds tied to Turner’s landmark pension reform plan.

See here for the background. I wouldn’t get too wrapped up in the claims that the proposed tax rate hike didn’t have the votes to pass. None of that would have mattered until the day Council actually voted on it. Besides, the goal wasn’t raising the rate, that was just a means to an end. The goal was paying the bills that were coming due – trash removal, insurance deductible, and the next insurance premium. Council members would have been welcome to argue against those things, or to propose alternate ways of paying for them, at the meeting when a vote was scheduled, or any time before then. Now they don’t have to. If Mayor Turner is relieved to not have to push this through now, I daresay the Council members who didn’t want to oppose him on it are relieved, too.

Houston gets state recovery funds, property tax rate hike shelved

Was that so hard? I ask you.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday said he would withdraw a proposed property tax rate hike after Gov. Greg Abbott handed him a check for $50 million to help fund the city’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey.

The exchange came as the mayor and governor held a joint City Hall news conference, a sharp departure from the last several days when the pair had traded letters and criticism over each other’s Harvey response.

Turner had tried to pin his proposed tax hike on the state’s unwillingness to tap its $10 billion savings account, while state officials viewed the city as seeking a blank check rather than targeting specific emergency funds in the state budget.

Ultimately, Abbott said he would draw upon a disaster fund within the discretion of his office, producing the $50 million amount Turner had intended to collect from residents’ property taxes.

See here and here for the background. The Trib adds some details.

The money, which comes from the $100 million disaster relief fund appropriated to Abbott’s office during the last legislative session, will go toward immediate relief needs such as reconstruction, Abbott and Turner said at a joint news conference in Houston. Abbott said long-term recovery and preventive measures would be funded by the federal government and the state’s $10 billion savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, but not until exact costs for recovery are known.

“The time to use the thrust of the Rainy Day Fund is when the expenses are known,” Abbott said. “So the members of the Legislature know how best to use the Rainy Day Fund.”

[…]

During the Friday news conference, Abbott said there “is a possibility for a special session” to allocate funds for recovery and prevention once those costs are better known.

“Now that the hurricane winds are calm … it’s time that we begin the process of rebuilding Texas, and that’s a tall task,” Abbott said. “This is what the state of Texas is for … We’re proud to be here wearing the same jersey working for the same team.”

Still, Abbott said the $10 billion Rainy Day Fund would only be able to cover a “fraction of the costs” of longer term recovery and prevention. Turner added that he and Abbott have discussed future preventative measures such as a third reservoir for flood waters, which could cost up to $400 million, and expanding bayous, which could cost $311 million. The two said they have also discussed a “coastal spine” — a protective seawall and floodgate system — along the coast, which Turner estimated to be a roughly $12 billion project.

So the money ultimately came from a funding source Abbott controlled, not the Rainy Day Fund, though as noted there may be some use of that later on. I don’t care what the provenance of the money is, but I do wonder why this was handled so clumsily by Abbott. Was this always what he intended to do but just never could explain it lucidly, or was this where he ended up after realizing how ridiculous he looked? I have no idea. That said, one must give credit where it is due, so kudos to Abbott for eventually figuring this out and doing the right thing. Even bigger kudos to Mayor Turner for getting the job done. This is what we elected him for.

Abbott says he wants a list from Turner

A list of funding priorities, he says. Because he’s passive like that.

Answering Houston’s latest complaints over funding for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday told Mayor Sylvester Turner the state can step up with more money as soon as the city gets a list of its top needs to the state.

Let’s meet quickly, Abbott said, as the deadline for an initial wave of federal funding is Friday.

After some verbal back-and-forth between the two leaders in recent days over funding for debris removal among other costs, Abbott wrote a four-page letter to Turner late Tuesday outlining seven different federal programs under which Houston will qualify for additional hurricane relief — from small-business disaster loans to special unemployment assistance to funding to help with food and housing needs.

[…]

“The Economic Stabilization Fund (the official name of the Rainy Day Fund) is a limited resource, and so it is imperative we understand the statewide financial situation before draining the fund only to learn of more financial obligations,” Abbott said in his letter.

“As of now it would be impossible to determine the highest and best use of ESF, because we do not yet know the extent of the losses . . . Texas should first use the full array of state financial resources and federal resources already available already available to us to respond to our current needs.

“Those tools should sufficient to respond to our needs, and Texans’ needs, until the next (legislative) session at which time a supplemental budget can be passed to pay for the expenses Texas has incurred. That supplemental budget will almost assuredly require using money from the Rainy Day Fund.”

See here for the background. I have no idea if Abbott felt a sensation akin to “shame” or “political pressure”, or if this story follows on the heels of the other one simply because there was information made available subsequently that added to the original picture. Be that as may, to address the substance of Abbott’s letter, let me first point you to this story in the Press:

Turner did give Abbott at least three specific examples of how Houston could use the Rainy Day Fund money in his letter Monday. For one, debris removal is projected to cost Houston $25 million, since FEMA is picking up 90 percent of the projected $250 debris removal tab. Turner has said structural damage to city buildings is now in the ballpark of $175 million — but meanwhile, the city’s flood insurance plan capped out at $100 million. In order to extend the plan through April 2018, so that the city still has flood insurance should another tropical storm make landfall this year, that’ll cost $10 million. The city must also pay a $15 million insurance deductible to recover on damages.

The mayor’s spokesman, Alan Bernstein, said that if the state were to hand over the $50 million to cover these insurance and debris removal costs, that is all the city is asking for and there will be no need to raise taxes.

$50 million is less than half of a percent of the total fund.

Is that list-y enough for you, Greg? Author Megan Flynn did a nice job of talking to some fiscal conservative types, none of whom could think of a good reason not to tap into the Rainy Day Fund for this. Note also that allocating $50 million from the $10 billion fund would “drain” it in the same way that spending a nickel on a piece of gum would “drain” a $10 bill.

The Chron editorial board, which reaches back to the 70s for a good analogy, also has a few minor corrections for our only Governor.

The governor rejected Turner’s request. He and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, another Houstonian, have said the mayor can use funds held by Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones for Harvey cleanup and recovery efforts. They’re mistaken. TIRZ bond funds are legally restricted to the use for which they were issued.

The governor has said the mayor’s request is unprecedented. Again, he’s mistaken. In 2013, the Legislature tapped into the Rainy Day Fund to help the Bastrop area recover from devastating wildfires. Bastrop County residents will tell you those fires were bad, but they didn’t cause damage expected to top $150 billion. That’s the toll Harvey wrought.

The governor has said the state has given Houston money. Again, he’s mistaken. The money that’s come our way is FEMA money destined for Houston and passed through the state, which keeps more than 3 percent for administrative costs. No state money has been allocated to the city for Harvey recovery.

Other than the folly of calling either Abbott of Patrick a “Houstonian” – Abbott has lived in Austin for all 20+ years of his political career, while Patrick is a “Houstonian” in the way all rich old white guys in the far flung master-planned communities and who think all cities are cesspools of crime and corruption because they don’t have enough rich old white guys like them living in them – I agree. What Abbott wants more than anything is a pretext to not do anything. If these falsehoods don’t work, I’m sure he’ll have others at the ready. The Observer has more.

Abbott has no interest in helping Houston

So much for that.

If the state taps into the Rainy Day Fund to help with recovery following Hurricane Harvey, it won’t be until the next legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott said during a news conference Tuesday.

Abbott’s announcement comes after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wrote to the governor asking the state to use the $10 billion fund. Turner said without significant state help, Houston will be forced to raise property taxes for one year to bring in $50 million for recovery efforts, which would cost the owner of an average Houston house $48.

Turner said he would not have proposed the tax hike had the governor called a special session to tap into the fund.

Abbott, who has said the state has enough resources to address Harvey-related needs between now and the next legislative session, added Tuesday that the state has already granted Houston almost $100 million for debris removal and established an “accelerated reimbursement program” for recovery efforts.

Abbott said he would pay any invoice the city submits to the state within 10 days.

Turner “has all the money that he needs,” Abbott said. “He just needs to tap into it,” referring to money in Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, Turner spokesman Alan Bernstein said Houston “cannot raid funds that the state has indicated cannot be raided – and which are largely for drainage projects to prevent future flooding anyway.”

Remember when we were talking about how Harvey has changed things in the state? Boy, those were the days. I believe this should settle once and for all what the Rainy Day Fund is for: Absolutely nothing. It’s an illusion. We should take all the money in this fund, convert it to gold bullion, and bury it in Greg Abbott’s backyard, perhaps next to one of the wells he had drilled to water his lawn during droughts. That would do us as much good as the fund actually does now. Maybe this might inspire someone to run against Abbott. It’s as easy an issue as you’ll get to run on. In any event, we’re on our own, because special sessions are for potties but not hurricane recovery. Thanks, Abbott!

UPDATE: Also, too, other parts of the state are in really bad shape. Sure, there’s insurance and FEMA and charity and volunteers, and all of those things should be utilized to the maximum. But does that mean the state gets off the hook, or that it just gets to sit back and wait to see what’s left over, which it then may get around to helping out with if it feels like it and if it doesn’t feel “blackmailed” by local officials who are trying to do their jobs? The lack of leadership here is as deep and pervasive as the rainfall was a month ago.

Fifth Circuit partially unblocks SB4

Terrible.

A panel of three appellate judges ruled on Monday that parts of the state’s immigration enforcement legislation, Senate Bill 4, can go into effect while the case plays out on appeal.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia halted the part of the bill that requires jail officials to honor all detainers. He also blocked other sections that prohibit local entities from pursuing “a pattern or practice that ‘materially limits’ the enforcement of immigration laws” and another that prohibits “assisting or cooperating” with federal immigration officers as reasonable or necessary.

While a hearing on the state’s appeal of that ruling is scheduled for Nov. 6, a panel of U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled Monday that the detainer provision can stand for now. The panel ruled, however, that based on its interpretation of the law, the part that requires local jails to “comply with, honor and fulfill” detainers does not require detention based on every detainer issued.

“The ‘comply with, honor, and fulfill’ requirement does not require detention pursuant to every ICE detainer request,” the panel wrote. “Rather, the ‘comply with, honor, and fulfill’ provision mandates that local agencies cooperate according to existing ICE detainer practice and law.” The court also ruled that jails do not need to comply if a person under a detainer request provides proof of lawful presence.

The appellate court also ruled that local and college police officers with “authority that may impact immigration” cannot be prevented from assisting federal immigration officers. It said the state was likely to win those arguments during a subsequent hearing and argued the issue has already been settled in an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision, Arizona v. United States.

But the 5th Circuit also said that portions of the measure that prevent “materially limiting” cooperation with immigration officials were too vague. The court held that the word “limit” could be too broadly interpreted and left a decision on that up to the subsequent panel.

The court offered a mixed ruling on another controversial item in the bill, a section of the law that prevents local governments from “adopting, enforcing or endorsing” policies that specifically prohibit or limit enforcement of immigration laws. The judges kept that injunction in place, but said it only applies to the word “endorse.” The bill, as passed and signed, would have made elected and appointed officials subject to a fine, jail time and possible removal from office for violating all or parts of the legislation. Opponents keyed in on the “endorsement” provision as something that would open up most officials to possible fines and jail time.

See here, here, and here for the background. I hate to say this could have been worse, because I agree with State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez in his statement that “No part of SB 4 should be allowed to take effect”, but it could have been worse. Even this limited ruling cracks the door open for the whole thing to be let through. I presume the plaintiffs will ask the whole court to reconsider, and will appeal to SCOTUS if they don’t succeed; the state will of course appeal if they do. In the meantime, there’s a whole lot more fighting to come, and a much darker cloud of fear for the many people who will be directly affected by this ruling. I know I harp on this a lot, but nothing is going to change until we change who we elect. The Observer and Texas Monthly, which has a great profile of Domésticas Unidas, one of the groups leading the resistance to SB4, have more.

Has Harvey changed anything politically?

You’d think it would, but it remains to be seen as far as I’m concerned.

A month to the day after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, the reality of the storm was beginning to sink in on the minds of politicians, policy makers and advocates bracing for a long recovery.

In short, any political plans people had pre-Harvey are now moot.

“Whatever any of us thought or hoped that the agenda for the next session would be, it is going to be overtaken by mother nature,” House Speaker Joe Straus told a full auditorium at the University of Texas Saturday. “It’s going to the biggest challenge that we face.”

[…]

Politicians said it’s still too soon to know exactly what the state needs to do to help the areas slammed by the storm cover, such as how much money it will cost to fix schools and roads and invest in such infrastructure to guard against future storms.

What policy experts and politicians across the board do know is it could take years for the state to recover.

The storm may provide an opportunity for a special legislative session for lawmakers to rethink the state’s school funding formula given property taxes, which schools depend on for funding, are expected to tank in storm-ravaged areas, said state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble.

“I don’t believe 1 million children are going anywhere, but their homes have been destroyed,” he said, noting his home sustained $50,000 in damage from Harvey. “I just don’t see any path to victory for the schools if we don’t take this very seriously going forward.”

Huberty wants lawmakers to return to Austin for a special legislative session focused on storm relief. In that conversation, they could rehab the state’s school funding formula to level out funding for districts that stand to lose property tax revenue from the storm.

[…]

Education Commissioner Mike Morath said he’s still undecided about whether to cancel, delay or ease how the state grades schools based on the tests. However, his tone changed from last week when he told the State Board of Education it was unlikely Texas would tinker with the STAAR.

That will be worth keeping an eye on. I’ve been thinking about what would have to happen for me to accept that “things have changed” in a substantive fashion. Two possibilities come to mind:

1. A special session to address school finance. This can’t be just to make payments to districts to cover Harvey costs that insurance and the feds won’t pay, though that absolutely needs to happen, and it can’t be something that waits till 2019 and is the initiative of the House Education Committee and Speaker Straus, because we already know they’re on board for this. It also can’t be used as a vehicle for pushing through the usual hobbyhorses like vouchers or the new obsessions like bathroom bills. The call would have to include both addressing disaster funding and more importantly the overall inequities of the system. The reason why this would be a change would be that it would demonstrate for the first time that Greg Abbott wants to fix this problem, and it would provide him with the chance to separate himself from Dan Patrick. For a variety of what should be obvious reasons, I don’t expect this to happen, but if it does it will be a real change.

2. Someone loses an election as a result of being unwilling to take positive action to abet recovery. I don’t think this will happen because right now the main obstacle to getting things done is Paul Bettencourt, and he’s not in any position to lose a race. The members of Congress who voted against Harvey aid, whatever their reasons for doing so, are all well outside the affected area. If a special session does happen, then that would create opportunities for people to say and do potentially costly things, but in the absence of such, I any current officeholder has much to worry about at this time.

I’m sure there are other possibilities, but these are what come to my mind. Everything else feels like normal business to me. Maybe if the state winds up doing nothing to help cities and school districts cover costs, despite the $10 billion-plus in the Rainy Day Fund, that would count as something having changed, though that’s clearly not what the story is about. I’m open to the idea that “things” will “change” after Harvey, but I’m going to wait until I see it happen before I believe it.

Can anyone beat Greg Abbott?

It’s early days and all that, but the evidence at hand now isn’t positive.

The reason for that is fairly simple. A poll circulating among the state’s Democratic leadership—which I was given on the agreement that I would not identify its source, but I have confirmed the information with additional Democratic operatives—shows Abbott is currently the most popular politician in Texas, with less than 30 percent of the state’s voters viewing him unfavorably. If the election had been held when the poll was conducted this summer among 1,000 registered Texans likely to vote in 2016, Abbott would have received 49 percent of the vote, and a Democrat to be named later would have scored 38 percent. That’s about the same percentage of the vote Democrat Wendy Davis received in her 2014 loss to Abbott. The poll also notes that Abbott’s name identification among voters was 91 percent. Castro’s was 44 percent. It was not a general survey of voters, because it oversampled Hispanics and voters in some targeted state House districts. About 37 percent of the respondents were Democrats, 19 percent independents, and 44 percent Republicans.

I only received a portion of the survey relating primarily to Abbott and the president, but it seems to show that the Donald Trump effect that Democrats have been hoping for is missing in Texas. Although the president’s personal favorable/unfavorable rating and job approval is about even, Abbott’s job approval was 61 percent, followed by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz at 55 percent. Not to mention that a whopping 76 percent of Texans had a positive view of the state’s economy—a key metric for incumbents.

Still, these numbers are in no small part because Abbott is Governor Bland. When asked whether he has ever done anything to make respondents proud, half said no, while less than 40 percent said yes. Has he ever done anything to make you angry? Sixty-seven percent said no.

The poll did produce some useful takeaways for Democrats though. For instance, 82 percent of poll respondents said the Legislature spends too much time on issues like the bathroom bill. President Trump’s health care proposals and plan to build a wall on the Texas border were opposed by half of those surveyed, and 65 percent said the state’s Medicaid program should be expanded to provide health care to more people. Fifty-eight percent opposed dividing families to deport undocumented immigrants, but support for the sanctuary cities law was split 40-40. The remaining 20 percent had no opinion.

[…]

But the biggest problem for Democrats with Abbott is that a sacrificial lamb candidate, or even a wealthy candidate who runs a poor campaign, can have a negative effect on candidates in down-ballot races.

So the other idea is to skip the governor’s race to concentrate on incumbents such as Patrick and Cruz. CPA Mike Collier, who ran an unsuccessful race for comptroller last year, has announced against Patrick, who is closely linked to the unpopular bathroom bill. There also are other potential down-ballot state races where the incumbent might be vulnerable, such as Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who has been making bad publicity a habit. Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment on securities fraud charges, and I’m told several attorneys are looking at mounting a challenge against him. Paxton’s trial is scheduled to begin jury selection on the same day as the party primaries filing deadline, December 11.

That’s from RG Ratcliffe, and I trust his reporting. The UT/Trib polls have always shown Abbott to be more popular than his peers, and I think Ratcliffe nails the reason why – Abbott is as dull as cardboard, so he gets the credit for things that people like without carrying the weight of being the villain, like Patrick or Cruz. I note that Ratcliffe has nothing to add about those two, which may be because the poll in question didn’t include them or possibly because he was not given clearance to talk about that stuff. I fully expect that the numbers look better for Dems against those two, though “better” does not mean “good enough to realistically think about winning”. All one can do here is speculate.

Ratcliffe suggests the best case scenario for Dems at the state level is for a self-funder to get in and spend enough to be competitive, at least in that category, with Abbott. I’ll wait to see who such a person may be and what he or she has to say about the issues before I sign off on that. An interesting question is what Abbott will do if he doesn’t have to spend much if any of his campaign fortune to get re-elected. Will he drop $20-30 million on a general get-out-the-Republican vote strategy, in the name of holding on to competitive seats and making gains where they are makable while maybe also knocking off some “RINOs” in the primaries, or will he prefer to hoard his gold, for the ego boost of seeing big numbers next to his name and to scare off the competition in 2022?

I don’t know yet what I think the effect of Abbott being functionally unopposed will be on other races. Patrick and Paxton and Miller all present fairly large attack surfaces, and of course Beto O’Rourke is doing his own thing and continuing to get favorable national press for his campaign. And for what it’s worth, O’Rourke isn’t sweating his lack of company at the very top of the ticket.

U.S. Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke said this week he isn’t worried that Democrats haven’t found a viable candidate to run for governor of Texas.

“The only thing I can do is what I can do. I can control our campaign,” O’Rourke told The Dallas Morning News during a campaign stop at the University of Texas at Dallas. “I’m not concerned. There’s clearly something different in Texas right now … folks are coming out like I’ve never seen before. As word gets out, as people see that, there’s going to be a greater interest in getting into the race.”

[…]

[TDP Chair Gilberto] Hinojosa and other Democrats insist they will have a candidate to run against Abbott. The filing period for the 2018 elections closes in December.

O’Rourke hopes there will be a full, qualified slate.

“I’m optimistic, but I can’t control it,” he said. “I try not to think about it too much.”

I mean, what else is he going to say? It’s not a problem until it is, I suppose, and that will happen when and if the first slew of crash-into-reality polls start coming down. Until then, Beto’s got his own fish to fry.

What will we do with the hardest hit schools?

The Houston area was inundated by floods during Harvey. As bad as that was and is, we weren’t affected by the wind. The coastal region is dealing with that, and it’s a very tough road they have ahead of them.

Hundreds of students languish at home, still out of school weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in coastal Texas, sundering even sturdy school buildings. The storm sliced off rooftop air-conditioning units and ripped holes in roofs, allowing rainwater to gush inside. It felled trees, toppled stadium lights and turned hallways and science labs into lakes.

Five school districts north of Corpus Christi remain shuttered, and two of them are not expected to open until mid-October — or later, if contractors diagnose unanticipated damage or cannot find supplies.

The extended closures have raised concerns about how students will catch up as the state recovers from its worst natural disaster. Then there are money concerns: How will school districts fare when they confront the cost of rebuilding and the potential loss of state money if enrollment drops?

Children from some of the hardest-hit communities — Rockport, Aransas Pass and Port Aransas — streamed into schools in neighboring towns to register, anxious to get back into the classroom. But many of those schools are running out of room.

[…]

The Gregory-Portland district, which was spared the brunt of the storm, reopened within days. Since then, its enrollment has exploded from about 4,500 students to nearly 6,300 — a 40 percent increase. Most of those students came from Rockport, which was walloped by Harvey.

As the hurricane made landfall near Corpus Christi — where tourism and shrimping are mainstay industries — it packed winds of more than 100 mph. Streets once lined with lush oak trees are now filled with gnarled branches and debris. Mobile-home parks have been reduced to rubble. Many hotels and restaurants sit closed. The water tower in Aransas Pass came crashing to the ground.

Many of Aransas Pass’s school buildings lost rooftop air-conditioning units, peeled off by high winds. The air conditioners then stamped holes in the roof as they bounced to the ground. Drenching rain soaked carpets and ceiling tiles, ruined papers and spawned hazardous mold. At A.C. Blunt Junior High, the library collection that took generations to build was soaked and will have to be replaced.

“When this devastation came about — gosh, it hit us hard,” said Mark Kemp, superintendent of the Aransas Pass Independent School District, which will not open before Oct. 16. He has encouraged students to enroll elsewhere until he can reopen schools. “We are Panther nation,” he said. “We love our athletes. We love our academia. We love our community.”

Teachers have been displaced, too. Some returned to homes left uninhabitable and now live in campers in a nearby state park that offered a free place for the hurricane homeless to stay.

I don’t have any answers for this. I’d like to know what answers Greg Abbott and his recovery czar, John Sharp, have. An awful lot of students and their parents need to hear it.

Fifth Circuit hears SB4 injunction arguments

Big day in court.

The immediate future of Texas’ immigration enforcement law hinges on whether a three-judge panel in New Orleans was swayed Friday by the state’s attorneys that the legislation is essential to public safety and should not have been partially blocked by a federal judge days before it was scheduled to go into effect.

Attorneys on both sides of the issue used most of their allotted 40 minutes on Friday before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals debating two major provisions of Senate Bill 4: whether local governments can be required to honor all ICE detainers, and whether local governments can be required to assist immigration officers on other matters.

[…]

Last month, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia halted the part of the bill that required jail officials to honor all detainers. He also blocked other sections that prohibit local entities from pursuing “a pattern or practice that ‘materially limits’ the enforcement of immigration laws” and another that prohibits “assisting or cooperating” with federal immigration officers as reasonable or necessary.

The Texas Attorney General’s office is asking the 5th Circuit court to lift those blocks while the case winds through the appeals process.

See here and here for the background. There’s too much argument to excerpt, so go read the whole thing. The main thing to keep in mind is that this is about whether or not the “sanctuary cities” law can be enforced while the litigation is ongoing. The injunction was put in place before enforcement was set to begin, so from that perspective things are no different today than they were before SB4 was passed. In practice, of course, things are very different, with immigrant communities living in terror as the state argues that they’re the cause of all our problems. The Fifth Circuit is on its own timeline for a ruling on the injunction, while there will be a hearing in early November for more arguments on the injunction and whether the case should proceed on its merits. In the meantime, we wait. The Current has more.

Mayor Turner lowers tax rate hike amount

I’m sure we’re all glad to see this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday said the temporary property tax rate hike he has proposed would be cut in half after federal officials approved his request to increase reimbursement for the city’s Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

Turner earlier this month had pitched an 8.9 percent increase for one year, but said it would not be enough to cover all of the city’s cost of recovering from the unprecedented storm and flooding. It would be the first rate hike in two decades.

On Wednesday, he said that increase could be halved – to an extra $50 next yearfor the owner of a $225,000 home with a standard homestead exemption – thanks to a White House decision to boost reimbursement of many of the city’s recovery costs from 75 to 90 percent.

“We’re going to do everything we can to hold our line. We’re trying to minimize our request,” Turner said. “I understand what people’s concerns are with what they’re going through in their homes, and we don’t want to add to the burden.”

[…]

No tax hike would be necessary, Turner said, if state leaders agree to tap their roughly $10 billion rainy day fund. That suggestion drew support from council members.

“We need it now. It’s raining,” said Councilman Jack Christie, who has spoken against a tax rate hike. “We’re behind you to do that to where we don’t have to raise taxes.”

Several times in recent days, Gov. Greg Abbott has said he expects funds will be tapped to pay for Harvey costs, but said damage estimates must be completed before dollars are withdrawn. The latest tally Wednesday projected $574 million in damage to public infrastructure, including $177 million in Harris County.

“I think most people understand that Texas will be tapping into the rainy day fund,” he said in San Antonio last week. “The important thing, though, is that we address the economic issues appropriately. We need to first understand what obligations we’re going to have, how much they will amount to, and decide upon the best strategies to pay for that.”

See here and here for the background. You know what could eliminate the need for any tax hike whatsoever? If the state of Texas, which has some $10 billion sitting around doing nothing, were to cover the remaining costs that insurance and the feds won’t. I wonder if anyone has briefed Paul Bettencourt about this possibility, since he seems to be so entirely bereft of constructive ideas. To be sure, even Dan Patrick has been talking about using the Rainy Day Fund to help Houston and everywhere else recover from Harvey. That’s both good and necessary. But the city of Houston has to pay for things now, and it has to make sure it has the financial wherewithal to pay for those things now since it is not allowed to carry expenses over from one accounting year to another (this is another way of saying the city must “balance” its budget), so unless there’s a firm commitment in place from the state that the city can rely on, it’s got to make its own plans to pay for any uncovered expenses. If Paul Bettencourt and the usual suspects on City Council don’t like that, they are welcome to direct their concerns to Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. The Press has more.

Don’t wait on Joaquin

We may want him to, but Rep. Joaquin Castro probably isn’t running for Governor.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Exiting a summit on citizen diplomacy Tuesday at the Texas Capitol, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, was trailed by a handful of reporters.
“Something tells me you didn’t come to hear a speech about international affairs,” Castro said.

He was right.

The reporters were there to once again ask whether he would consider running for governor in 2018.

It has become a somewhat tired ritual. But with no hint of any formidable Democratic candidate ready to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott, reporters have little else to work with, and for Castro, as for his twin brother, Julián, the only day more nettlesome than the ones on which they are asked about their future political ambitions, will be the day when reporters stop asking about those ambitions.

[…]

Last week, Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa stirred the ashes of hope that Joaquín Castro might run in 2018 in search of faint embers.

“He’s never ruled it out,” Hinojosa said of Castro.

So, Castro was asked Tuesday, apropos Hinojosa’s comments, “Are you still considering it?”

“No. I have nothing further to add right now,” Castro replied. “My plan is to run for re-election, as I said when we had a press conference here about a month ago.”

That was Aug. 16, when Castro, also in the Capitol where he served 10 years as a state representative, said to much the same gaggle of reporters, “Well, I have a job right now, and my plan is to run for re-election.”

Castro was asked Tuesday if Hinojosa was guilty of peddling false information.

“The chairman is a great friend and has worked really hard building up the Democratic Party over the last few years, and I’m very appreciative of his work,” Castro said.

Have you ruled out a run for governor?

“My plan is to run for re-election,” replied Castro, now chuckling at the inability of reporters to let it go.

See here for the background. One can twist oneself into knots parsing each word and coming up with Reasons why this isn’t a flat denial, but one would be deluding oneself. He’s not running for Governor, for all the reasons why he didn’t run for Senate and more. Maybe there is someone out there with a decent profile who will (*cough* *cough* Pete Gallego *cough* *cough*), but barring anything unforeseen, I’ll take the chance of looking foolish and saying there’s no there there. He’s running for re-election, and that’s that. Sorry, y’all.

Abbott waives fees for birth certificates for individuals from hurricane-affected counties

From Diane Trautman on Facebook, also sent to me in email:

Governor Greg Abbott has approved a request allowing the state to waive fees for mail-in or walk-in birth certificate issuance requests, and local registrars to waive fees for walk-in birth certificate issuance requests, for individuals from hurricane-affected counties. This is important for several reasons, one of which is that a birth certificate is a valid form of supporting documentation for voters without proper ID who need to sign an Affidavit of Reasonable Impediment.

A list of the affected counties is at the announcement. The language used is pretty legalistic, so unless you are familiar with “Section 418.016 of the code”, you may not realize from the announcement just what this means, so thanks to Diane Trautman for the interpretation. You probably know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who needs to know this, so please pass it on.

Some people would like Joaquin Castro to run for Governor

The headline to this story says that Rep. Castro “is considering” a run for Governor, but if you read the story you’ll see that my characterization is the more accurate.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

In need of someone to lead the top of the 2018 ticket, Democrats are trying to persuade U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro to run for Texas governor.

“He and others are considering it,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told The Dallas Morning News. “It’s a very big decision for him. It would require him to leave his safe seat in the U.S. House, where he’s a rising star.”

Castro, who will turn 43 on Saturday, has represented the 20th Congressional District since 2013. He served 10 years in the Texas House. He had not responded to requests for comment as of Thursday afternoon.

Texas Democrats have been in search of a 2018 candidate for governor in hopes of beating incumbent Republican Greg Abbott and boosting down-ballot candidates in the Texas Senate and House.

Hinojosa said Democrats hope to compete in 15 to 20 Texas House contests, as well as three congressional seats with Republican incumbents. “All these races would be helped by a strong candidate at the top of the ticket,” Hinojosa said. But analysts say Castro is unlikely to run for governor because there’s not a clear path to victory for Democrats, who have not won a statewide race in Texas since 1994.

[…]

Castro appeared destined to run for re-election to the House, but Texas Democrats approached him late this summer and asked him to be the party’s standard-bearer against Abbott. Several Democrats have passed on running for governor, including Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas.

Hinojosa said he doesn’t know which way Castro was leaning. “I won’t comment on conversations I’ve had with potential candidates,” he said.

Matt Angle, director of the Democratic research group the Lone Star Project, said Castro’s deliberations might lead him to run for re-election, not governor. But he said Democrats will still field a strong challenger. “We will have a candidate for governor that Democrats can feel good about,” he said. “Whether they will have a path to victory, I don’t know.”

I’d love to know who those “others” are that are also considering it. (I’ll put in a plug again for Pete Gallego.) Chairman Hinojosa seems to have a good grasp of the reasons why Rep. Castro may demur – they’re basically the same as the reasons why he’d demur on a run against Ted Cruz, with the added incentive of Abbott having a bajillion dollars to his name and not being the most despised politician not named Trump in the state. Against that, one could argue that the political climate is growing more favorable to the Dems as Trump keeps flailing about and selling out his base, and if Castro had any plans to run for Senate against John Cornyn in 2020, a noble but non-crushing loss to Abbott would be a decent dry run for it. On top of all this are the apparent calculations about Julian Castro’s future, and whether a Joaquin candidacy for Governor and the accompanying non-trivial risk of crashing and burning would hinder Julian’s chances of running against Trump in 2020. As they say, it’s complicated. My guess is that Castro sits it out and we get to see who’s next on the wish list. I imagine we’ll have a clear indicator soon.

UPDATE: In the Statesman, Hinojosa says that Castro “never ruled out” running for Governor. To be fair, neither have I.

More post-Harvey ideas

From the Chron, which likens this moment to what Galveston faced after the great hurricane of 1900:

1. Establish a regional flood control authority

Floodwaters ignore city-limit signs and county-line markers. We can’t adequately address drainage issues with a mélange of municipal efforts and flood control districts split between local jurisdictions. Instead of dividing these disaster-prevention efforts into provincial fiefdoms, we need a single authority with the power to levy taxes that will take charge of all of our area’s drainage issues. Gov. Abbott should call a special session of the Legislature and set up such an authority.

Although we are skeptical about whether lawmakers obsessed with divisive social issues can turn their attention to urgent needs, establishing this authority requires action from Austin. Our governor and our Legislature need to get this done immediately.

2. Build a third reservoir

Addicks and Barker dams, reservoirs and spillways, constructed more than 60 years ago, are dangerously inadequate. The U.S. Corps of Engineers rated both as “extremely high-risk” infrastructure years before Harvey. Houston environmental attorney Jim Blackburn maintains that at least one new reservoir should be constructed in northwest Harris County that can help flooding along Cypress Creek, Bear Creek and Buffalo Bayou. He urges the construction of additional upstream locations on virtually every stream in our region.

Harvey shoved us uncomfortably close to catastrophe. We need a third reservoir, and probably more, to avoid unimaginable consequences the next time. Some experts estimate this could be a half-billion-dollar infrastructure project. It is a small price to pay to avoid catastrophe and should be part of any federal relief plan.

[…]

5. Approve new funding streams

We need money. A lot of it. Current local budgets are inadequate to cover the costs of the massive infrastructure investment we’ll need to keep this region safe from floods. The Harris County Flood Control District has a capital improvement budget of $60 million per year. Mike Talbott, the district’s former executive director, estimated that we need about $26 billion for necessary infrastructure updates.

That third one is the key, of course. A lot of what the Chron suggests requires at least some input from the Legislature. Given everything we know about this Lege and this Governor and the recent anti-local control obsession, what do you think are the odds of that?

By the way, the Chron also mentions ReBuild Houston and its associated drainage fee. It sure would make some sense to have a dedicated fund like that for all of Harris County, and perhaps for Fort Bend and Brazoria and Galveston too. I’m going to ask again – what exactly is the argument for continuing the lawsuit over the 2010 referendum, and what would be the argument against re-approving this fund if it has to be voted on again?

From The Conversation:

Proactive maintenance first. In 2017, U.S. infrastructure was given a D+ by the American Society for Civil Engineering Infrastructure Report Card. The bill to repair all those deteriorating roads, bridges and dams would tally $210 billion by 2020, and $520 billion in 2040. For example, the US Army Corps of Engineers estimates there are 15,460 dams in the U.S. with “high” hazard ratings.

Yet, when our cities and states spend on infrastructure, it is too often on new infrastructure projects. And new infrastructure tend to emulate the models, designs and standards that we’ve used for decades – for instance, more highway capacity or new pipelines.

Meanwhile, resources for long-term maintenance are often lacking, resulting in a race to scrape together funding to keep systems running. If we want to get serious about avoiding disasters in a rapidly changing world, we must get serious about the maintenance of existing infrastructure.

Invest in and redesign institutions, not just infrastructure. When analyzing breakdowns in infrastructure, it is tempting to blame the technical design. Yet design parameters are set by institutions and shaped by politics, financing and policy goals.

So failures in infrastructure are not just technical failures; they are institutional ones as well. They are failures in “knowledge systems,” or the ability to generate, communicate and utilize knowledge within and across institutions.

For example, the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina are often interpreted as technical failures. They were, but we also knew the levees would fail in a storm as powerful as Katrina. And so the levee failureswere also failures in institutional design – the information about the weakness of the levees was not utilized in part because the Hurricane Protection System was poorly funded and lacked the necessary institutional and political power to force action.

In the wake of Harvey, basic design and floodplain development parameters, like the 100-year flood, are being acknowledged as fundamentally flawed. Our ability to design more resilient infrastructure will depend on our ability to design more effective institutions to manage these complex problems, learn from failures and adapt.

On that first point, the Addicks and Barker dams both need some fixing up. Let’s not forget that sort of thing.

Finally, from Mimi Swartz, in Texas Monthly:

Yet if dirty air and dirty water and flooded, congested streets all sound a little familiar, there’s a reason. As Ginny Goldman, a longtime organizer who is currently chairing the Harvey Community Relief Fund, said to me, “There are often these problems in a city of any size, but here, where we haven’t done enough to deal with affordable housing and transportation access and income inequality, and where the state has blocked public disclosure of hazardous chemicals in neighborhoods, then a natural disaster hits and we pull the curtain back and it’s all on full display.”

Just after Harvey started pounding Houston with what looked to be never-ending rainfall, I got an email from an old friend who was lucky enough to be out of town for the main event. Sanford Criner is an inordinately successful member of Houston’s developer class, a vice chairman of CBRE Group, the largest commercial real estate and investment firm in the world. He is also a native Houstonian, and like so many of us here, he was already thinking about what was coming next. (Yes, it’s a Houston thing.) “Either we are committed to a future in which we collectively work for the good of the whole,” Criner wrote, “or we decide we’re all committed only to our individual success (even perhaps assuming that that will somehow lead to the common good). I think our story now is either: (i) Houston is the new Netherlands, using our technological genius to develop sophisticated answers to the most challenging global problems of the twenty-first century, or (ii) we are the little Dutch boy, who pokes his finger in the dike, solving the problems of the twenty-five people in his neighborhood. How we respond to this will determine into which of those categories we fit and will define Houston’s future.”

“I’m hopeful. But scared,” he added, neatly summing up the stakes moving forward.

In the past few decades, even as Houston was making its mark on the global economy, building gleaming towers designed by world-class architects and mansions the size of Middle Eastern embassies, as we were hosting world premieres of radically new operas and ballets and coming up with those crazy Asian-Cajun fusion dishes to die for—even as we really were and are optimistic, innovative, entrepreneurial, pretty tolerant, and all that other good stuff—we were doing so selectively. That instinct for the quick fix, or no fix at all, has been with us since the city started expanding in the sixties and seventies and is still a part of the Houston way. In reality, we keep dragging our dark side forward, a shadow sewn to our heels with the strongest surgical wire.

So now the question we face is this: Will Houston become a model for flood relief and disaster recovery, or just another once grand city sinking into mediocrity? In other words, can we be true to our reputation for innovation and aim for something higher than the status quo? The answer depends on which aspects of our culture wind up dominating the search for solutions.

That’s more of a high-level view than a specific suggestion, but it sums up the issue concisely. It’s important to realize that none of the things that many people have been saying we should do are impossible. They are all within our capabilities, if we want to do them. The choice is ours, and if the politicians we elect aren’t on board with it, then we need to elect new leaders. It’s as simple as that.

More on the SB4 ruling

Circling back to one of the big court decisions from last week, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern talks to ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt about what was blocked by federal Judge Orlando Garcia in the “sanctuary cities” lawsuit.

Mark Joseph Stern: SB 4’s overarching goal is to compel all Texas law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law. Why is that illegal?

Lee Gelernt: SB 4 says that local entities, which are very broadly defined, cannot engage in a practice or adopt a policy that would “materially limit” federal immigration enforcement. We sued on behalf of a mayor and sheriff who were concerned that this provision meant they’d lose local control over their police force—and turn their police into adjuncts to the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement. Complying with SB 4 would drain resources and cause the community to lose trust in the police: Every time community members reported a crime, they’d be concerned that an officer would ask them about their immigration status. We already saw anxiety about that build during the recent hurricane.

Judge Garcia blocked this requirement because Congress has already laid out the procedure through which local law enforcement can become authorized to enforce immigration law. That procedure imposes numerous requirements on local law enforcement. SB 4 circumvents those requirements, which means it’s pre-empted by federal law.

[…]

One of SB 4’s most startling provisions effectively bars public officials from opposing the measure: No officer or employee of a local government may “endorse” a policy limiting the enforcement of federal immigration law. Each violation incurs a fine of $25,500, and violators may be removed from office. The court blocked this provision on First Amendment grounds. My biggest question is what in the world was Texas thinking?

In court, Texas didn’t really make a full-throated defense of that provision. The state’s lawyers tried to argue that the provision doesn’t actually prohibit speech. But of course it does, even though the statute doesn’t define “endorse.”

The court wrote that “endorse” could mean “a recommendation, suggestion, comment, or other expression in support of” limiting local immigration enforcement.

Right. The provision seems to bar local officials and employees from criticizing SB 4 even when they’re not acting in their public capacity. Police officers and mayors aren’t even sure if they can testify against SB 4 in court. This prohibition is so cryptic—but the penalties are extreme.

The court also blocked a provision that punishes any official who “materially limit[s]” law enforcement from “assisting or cooperating” with federal immigration officers. Anyone who violates this requirement is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. Why is that illegal?

Due process requires fair notice of what a law forbids or requires, and Judge Garcia ruled that this provision is simply too vague to comport with that rule. For instance, imagine a sheriff gets a call from a federal immigration officer who says, “We need your help.” Does the sheriff have to allow his officers to go? If he doesn’t, he could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines as well as jail time and removal from office. In court, Texas argued that the attorney general would never move against a sheriff in a case like that. But a lawyer’s promises aren’t good enough for people on the ground who have to make these decisions in real time.

SB 4 compels local law enforcement to honor “ICE detainers”—federal requests to detain possibly undocumented individuals for up to 48 hours after they should be released so that Immigration and Customs Enforcement can retrieve them. ICE detainers are contentious because they seem to infringe upon the Fourth Amendment’s bar on unreasonable detention.

We believe it is unconstitutional to detain an individual without probable cause of an actual crime. Living in the United States without documentation is not a crime but a civil violation, which raises concerns about the lawfulness of ICE detainers.

But even assuming that the Fourth Amendment allows states to detain individuals based on probable cause of a civil violation, SB 4 is illegal. Local jail officials must be able to make their own assessments of detainees to determine whether there is probable cause that they’ve committed a civil immigration violation. And SB 4 allows officials almost no discretion. It forces them to honor ICE detainers and detain an individual even if they think that detention is unlawful. SB 4 puts jail officials in a bind: Either honor the ICE detainer and act unconstitutionally, or don’t honor the detainer and subject yourself to jail time and removal from office.

See here for the background. The state has already filed it appeal, so the next action will come from the Fifth Circuit. As the Trib notes, not every part of the law was blocked.

The ability for local law enforcement officers to ask about status, and then turn that information over, are parts of SB 4 that some of its opponents fear the most. Those items weren’t blocked. But Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), attorneys for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said those provisions would probably not alter day-to-day operations significantly if they are followed the way the law states.

“These two provisions left in place largely replicate what is existing law,” he said Thursday during a call with reporters. “We further note — and Judge Garcia made clear — that the rights and the ability of police to act on any information received extends only to turning that information over to federal immigration authorities.”

That means that an officer can’t arrest that person based solely on the information. And, Saenz said, an officer can’t demand that information during a lawful stop.

“Every person has a right to refuse any question posed by a local police officer or sheriffs deputy about immigration status, and the refusal to answer questions about immigration should have no repercussions,” he said.

No doubt this provision is a big part of the reason why many immigrant victims of Harvey have not reached out for help, despite promises from mayor Turner among others that they will be fine. Even with the win in court, this law has already done a lot of damage. Texas Monthly has more.

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.

No special session needed to address Harvey flooding

So says Greg Abbott.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday another special session of the Texas Legislature won’t be necessary to deal with the response to Hurricane Harvey.

“We won’t need a special session for this,” Abbott told reporters, noting that the state has enough resources to “address the needs between now and the next session.”

[…]

In recent days, some members of the Texas Legislature have speculated that a special session to address the recovery seemed likely. They included state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, an ally of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the chairman of the Senate GOP caucus.

“My personal assumption right now is that we will probably be back in Austin at work no later than January,” Bettencourt told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday.

Here’s that Chron story. A few details from it to help clarify:

“My personal assumption right now is that we will probably be back in Austin at work no later than January,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chair Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, echoing the sentiments of other House and Senate members.

“The governor and the Legislative Budget Board have the ability to move around quite a bit of money in current appropriations, but it probably won’t be enough when all the bills come in. This storm is going to cost more than (hurricanes) Katrina and Sandy put together, and I’m thinking we’ll be breaking the $200 billion mark before this over.”

While the state would be liable for only a fraction of that amount, after insurance and federal payments come in, but whatever that (remaining) amount is will be something the Legislature will probably have to address.”

That, say other lawmakers, will most likely involve a politically charged debate over tapping the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund — a $10 billion account officially known as the Economic Stabilization Fund — to pay for some of the storm-damage tab.

[…]

In a Thursday letter to House members, House Speaker Joe Straus said he will be issuing selective interim charges — directives for legislative recommendations — “in the near future to address these challenges” resulting from the massive destruction caused by Harvey, especially to schools.

“The House Appropriations Committee will identify state resources that can be applied toward the recovery and relief efforts being incurred today, as well as long-term investments the state can make to minimize future storms,” the San Antonio Republican said in his letter. “When the appropriate time comes, other committees will review the state’s response and delivery of services.”

The Legislative Budget Board, jointly headed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Straus, can make key decisions on reallocating state funds to meet emergency needs — up to a point, officials said. Half of its members — three senators and two House members — represent areas devastated by Harvey.

My guess is that Abbott is probably right and the LBB can cover this for now. Tapping the Rainy Day Fund, which I will point out again was created for the purpose of helping to cover budget shortfalls in times of economic downturn before being bizarrely recast as in-case-of-disaster savings by Rick Perry in 2011, may require the Lege, but that may be done in a way as to defer that action until 2019. My wonk skillz are limited in this particular area. Point being, if Congress can manage to allocate relief funding without tripping over their ideologies, there shouldn’t be that much for the state to have to pick up. We’ll see.

More medical marijuana requested

This was a pre-Harvey story.

Medical cannabis companies and investors are calling on Gov. Greg Abbott’s office and the Department of Public Safety to approve more dispensary licenses beyond the three given provisional approval in May.

In a pair of letters this week, the coalition argues that having just three dispensaries, two in Austin and one in Schulenburg, cannot ensure that patients with intractable epilepsy have easy access to the low THC-chemical strain of the cannabis plant.

The Texas Cannabis Industry Association requested in its letter that a second round of applications be taken for the 40 companies that initially applied for but failed to obtain provisional licenses. The group specifically asks for at least nine additional licenses.

The requested number stems from a recommendation made by DPS’ chief financial officer, who noted in September 2015 that at least 12 dispensaries would need to be licensed to meet the needs of some 150,000 patients with intractable epilepsy in the state.

[…]

In October 2016, DPS officials reduced their recommended number of dispensaries to three.

A DPS memo sent to at least one cannabis company last November stated that the governor’s office had requested the reduction, along with other regulatory changes to the state’s fledgling medical-cannabis program.

The companies and investors who signed the Texas Cannabis Industry letter note that both DPS and the governor’s office “failed to provide a reasoned justification for this arbitrary choice limiting the number of licensees.”

You can see the letter here and some supporting information for it here. This bill was passed in 2015, and we were supposed to have all these dispensaries set up by September 1 of this year. Obviously, there are more important issues to worry about right now, but for those who may have benefited from the passing of this law, this is where it stands now.

Enforcement of SB4 halted

Excellent!

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia granted a preliminary injunction of Senate Bill 4, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s key legislative priorities that seeks to outlaw “sanctuary” entities, the common term for governments that don’t enforce federal immigration laws.

The bill was scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1, but opponents of the legislation, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued the bill violates several provisions of the Constitution. Garcia’s decision means the bill is on hold until that issue is decided; his court will now likely set another date to determine SB4’s constitutionality.

His decision is a temporary, but significant blow to Abbott and other Republican backers of the bill who said it would help keep Texans safe from undocumented immigrants that have been arrested on criminal charges but released from custody by sheriffs or other elected officials who refuse to hold the alleged criminals for possible deportation.

See here for the background. You know how I feel about this. The story broke late yesterday, so this was all that was available at the time. I’m sure there will be much more reporting soon.

UPDATE: From the Chron story:

“The best interest of the public will be served by preserving the status quo and enjoining, prior to Sept. 1, the implementation and enforcement of those portions of SB 4 that, on their face, are preempted by federal law and violate the United States Constitution,” Garcia wrote.

The decision, which can be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, is a blow to one of the toughest immigration laws in the nation.

In order to obtain an injunction, the local governments and organizations challenging the law needed to prove they were harmed by it and likely to succeed in their claim that it is unconstitutional.

“We won over 90 percent of it,” said Luis Vera, a lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, which represented the border city of El Cenizo in the lawsuit. “The state cannot mandate to the cities or police officers or sheriff’s offices how they run their police departments.”

[…]

The ruling found the plaintiffs made their case and were even helped during oral arguments by the state.

For instance, the judge noted the state “essentially concedes that the irreparable harm requirement is met.”

The judge quoted an argument made by one of the lawyers with the Texas Attorney General’s Office: “The state of Texas concedes, Your Honor, that if Senate Bill 4 is unconstitutional or a provision of it is severed by this court or this court finds it unconstitutional, if it is, and it would violate the constitutional rights of the public, then there is irreparable harm.”

The judge found that certain provisions of SB 4 conflict with, and are pre-empted by, federal law because enforcing SB 4 will interfere with the federal government’s authority to control immigration. The judge also found that enforcing SB 4 will result in First Amendment violations.

The judge also determined that vague prohibitions in SB 4 violate due process and “create a real danger of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

In addition, he found that enforcement of the mandatory detainer provisions “will inevitably lead to Fourth Amendment violations.”

I am sure this will be appealed, and who knows what happens next. But for now, this is a big win.

Please don’t complain about the lack of an evacuation

There are good reasons why there was not an evacuation order for the greater Houston area in advance of Harvey.

Ultimately, mayors and county judges are charged with making such decisions. Leaders in Houston and Harris County told residents to stay put ahead of the storm and have since defended those decisions — even as bayous spill into the streets in what might be the worst flood event the area has ever seen.

“To suggest that we should have evacuated 2 million people is an outrageous statement,” Harris County Judge Emmett told CNN on Sunday.

Emmett and others have offered a litany of reasons for hunkering down. That includes the reality that such a mass evacuation can turn into logistical nightmare with huge safety risks of its own.

“People disproportionately die in cars from floods, so evacuation is not as straightforward a call as seems,” Marshall Shepherd, a program director in atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia, tweeted Sunday.

Shepherd pointed to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showing that drivers accounted for 66 percent of U.S. flood fatalities in 2014.

For a vivid example of what can go wrong in a large-scale evacuation, Texans can look twelve years back to Hurricane Rita, when more than 3 million people from south and southeast Texas set off on one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history.

The backdrop of that blistering summer in 2005: Just three weeks earlier, Hurricane Katrina had submerged New Orleans and killed 1,200 people when Rita barreled toward the coastline. Texans didn’t want to stick around to see how Rita would compare, so they bolted — or tried to.

Traffic jams stretched across hundreds of miles over two days, and many people ran out of gas. Dozens died from accidents and heat-related illnesses, all before Rita even made landfall.

Of the 139 deaths that the state linked to Hurricane Rita, 73 occurred before the storm hit Texas. Twenty-three people died in a bus fire. Ten others died from hyperthermia due to heat exposure. In the years since Rita, state and local officials say new laws and better planning would help the state’s next evacuation go more smoothly, but Houston mayor Sylvester Turner this weekend indicated Rita’s legacy factored into his decision.

“You cannot put, in the city of Houston, 2.3 million people on the road…That is dangerous,” he said in a press conference Sunday. “If you think the situation right now is bad — you give an order to evacuate, you create a nightmare.”

Emmett, the Harris County Judge, has pointed to additional factors in defense of calls to stay, drawing distinctions between danger from Harvey — primarily rainfall — and the hurricanes that struck before it.

“When we have hurricanes, we know who to evacuate, because you have a storm surge coming, and we have that down to a very fine art,” he told CNN Sunday. “In this case, we have a rain event. Unless you know where the rain is going to fall, we don’t know who to evacuate.”

I agree with everything Judge Emmett and Mayor Turner have said about this, and I say that as someone who did evacuate during Hurricane Rita. One thing that I haven’t seen mentioned in this conversation is that if Houston evacuates, it means that all of Galveston and Texas City and La Marque and Dickinson wind up being in line behind us. In a situation where storm surge is an issue, that’s really not a good thing. Bear in mind also, that as recently as Saturday afternoon, after landfall in Rockport, it was not clear exactly what path Harvey would take. It was entirely possible that Harvey would be a big-but-not-catastrophic rainmaker on Houston. How do you justify evacuating millions of people for that? Never mind where they would go.

There may come a time, God forbid, when Houston will truly need to evacuate for an apocalyptic hurricane aimed at us. If that happens, we’ll know it when we see it. In the meantime, as big and bad as Harvey has been, Judge Emmett and Mayor Turner made the right call. If you still need convincing, go read Kam Franklin. She says what I’m saying with far more poetry. (A version with less cussing is here, if you prefer.)

Will we have maps in time for March primaries?

Maybe. It’s up to the courts.

State officials insisted Friday they expect to stop the court challenges on appeal, and reverse Texas’ losing streak on the voting-rights lawsuits, legal experts predicted Texas could end up back under federal supervisions of its elections rules if the appeals fail.

In short, the court fight is shaping up as a political game of chicken, with significant consequences no matter how it turns out.

“In both of the cases where there are new decisions, the courts have ruled that Texas has purposefully maintained ‘intentional discrimination’ in the way it drew its maps,” said Michael Li, an expert on Texas redistricting who is senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

“That’s an important finding that could result in Texas being placed back under pre-clearance coverage. Based on that, there may be a good chance that could happen.”

[…]

On Friday, Paxton asked the Supreme Court to overturn the lower-court decision on Texas’ congressional maps. “We are confident that the Supreme Court will allow Texas to continue to use the maps used in the last three election cycles,” he said.

Even so, until that appeal is decided, “we don’t expect or anticipate any delay in the Texas election schedule,” said Marc Rylander, Paxton’s communications director.

Li and other legal experts are not so sure.

First, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Thursday’s ruling by the three-judge panel will almost certainly not be decided until after the filing period in November and December for House seats is over.

And if appellate court rulings in other cases go against the state, the schedule could be upended by court orders to redraw political boundaries for candidates running in those elections. And any boundary changes to benefit blacks and Hispanics could mean gains for Democrats, who those groups traditionally vote for.

“There’s a good chance that, given the way these cases stand with the courts, that the primary election schedule could be affected,” Li said.

The state had previously announced its intention to appeal the Congressional map; you can see a copy of their brief here. I presume an appeal of the State House ruling will ensue. As far as next year’s primaries go, basically one of two things will happen. Either SCOTUS will step in and say that the current maps will remain in place until the appeals process has played out, or it won’t. In that case, new maps need to be drawn. The court will have hearings right after Labor Day to determine a schedule for hearings and whatnot in the event there is no halt from SCOTUS and Greg Abbott declines to call a special session and have the Lege draw compliant maps. Whether it’s the court (most likely) or the Lege, it needs to be done by roughly the end of October so election officials can provide maps and files to county party chairs and interested candidates in time for the normal November-December filing period. There are people who are going to make run/don’t run decisions based on what those maps look like. There’s a decent chance we wind up with later primaries next year – perhaps May, as we had in 2012 – but it’s not certain yet. We should be in a better position to know by the end of the first week of September.