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HD90

Is the Lege going to try to “fix” HD90?

Here’s a legislative to do list item that has been completely off the radar.

Rep. Ramon Romero

Federal courts last year gave Texas lawmakers 45 days from the beginning of this year’s legislative session to start redrawing boundary lines for Fort Worth’s House District 90 because of gerrymandering.

The 45-day mark [was] Thursday.

If a proposal isn’t introduced within the first month and a half of the session — or if it doesn’t appear likely that a new plan will come up during the session that wraps up May 27 — then the three-judge panel in a U.S. District Court in San Antonio will undertake the “unwelcome obligation” of fixing the district.

So far, no bill to redraw the district represented by Democrat Ramon Romero has been filed.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that we must have a narrow tailored correction to District 90,” Romero said. “The most narrow tailored line is that those precincts split by amendments in 2013 must be brought back to the way they were before.

“Will the district be fixed by the Legislature or will the Legislature pass on filing a bill … to let the courts do it?”

He said the next step is to see what fixes are proposed by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

See here and here for the background. This was brought to my attention by regular commenter blank, who also noted it at Daily Kos. This story was published on Tuesday, and as far as I can tell, no bills relevant to this issue have been filed. That doesn’t mean that the courts will absolutely jump in with their own fix – the AG will propose something, the deadline for all bill filing hasn’t passed yet, and I’m sure the court won’t consider taking action until after the session if nothing passes and someone files a motion. Whatever the case, this is out there. What makes it more complicated, as blank noted in his Kos comment, is that if such a bill gets filed and heard in committee, it could be amended in all kinds of ways as it works through the system. You could in effect redistrict the entire Lege using this bill as a vehicle if you have the votes for it. Or you may just decide nothing is worth the bother and leave it to the court to clean up. I have no idea which way this will go, but we’ll keep an eye on it.

Going for Section 3

I wouldn’t get my hopes up, but Lord knows this is desperately needed.

The voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers who have long challenged the validity of Texas’ political maps were dealt a bruising loss earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court signed off on most of the state’s current political boundaries and pushed aside claims that state lawmakers had intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they drew the maps.

But a crucial question remained in the case: Would the state’s opponents ask the courts to force Texas back under federal oversight of its electoral map drawing, given previous maps that federal judges ruled discriminatory?

Their answer came Wednesday in a series of brief court filings in which some of the plaintiffs in the case indicated they wanted to press forward on those high stakes efforts.

[…]

In approving the state’s current maps, the high court in June wiped out a ruling by a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio that found the maps, which were adopted in 2013, were tainted with discrimination that was meant to thwart the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office.

But seemingly left untouched were previous findings of intentional discrimination at the hands of the state lawmakers who in 2011 first embarked on redrawing the state’s maps following the 2010 census.

Though the plaintiffs lost on their challenge to the state’s current maps, groups that challenged the maps pointed to some of those 2011 violations in indicating to the San Antonio panel that the issue of a return to federal oversight was not yet settled in the case.

See here for the background. I want to be clear that I agree with everything the plaintiffs are saying. I just don’t believe that the courts will lift a finger to do anything about it. The lower court might go along with it, since they previously ruled that the Republicans had discriminated in drawing the maps, but there are no circumstances I can imagine where SCOTUS will uphold that. It’s just not going to happen. The only possible recourse would have to come from Congress. That’s what we need to push for and work for in the next two elections.

In the meantime, there is now one item on the to-do list.

Before 45 days pass in the next legislative session, Texas lawmakers must begin fixing discriminatory issues with the way in which North Texas’ House District 90 was drawn.

In a brief order, a three-judge panel based in San Antonio told lawmakers they needed to address racial gerrymandering violations in the district — the only exception the U.S. Supreme Court made when it signed off on the state’s embattled political maps earlier this year. HD-90, which is occupied by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero, was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

Opponents of the state’s maps had previously indicated to the court that they wanted to revert the district to its 2011 version, a suggestion the state said it opposed and that the panel said it disagreed with.

On Thursday, the panel ordered lawmakers to redraw the district — either in a 2018 special legislative session that would need to be called by the governor or at the start of the 2019 legislative session. If a proposal isn’t introduced within the first month and half of the session, the judges said they would undertake the “unwelcome obligation” of fixing the district.

That’s fairly small potatoes, but it needs to be done and I for one would be interested to see what happens if the court winds up having to do the deed itself. As a reminder, the voter ID litigation is over, so this is the only court action left relating to the original 2011 legislative atrocities. The DMN has more.

Same maps, different day

The coda to the SCOTUS redistricting ruling.

The 2018 elections will move forward without any tweaks to Texas’ political maps.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold all but one of the state’s political districts, a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio on Tuesday ordered that the state’s maps should stay in place for this year’s elections despite outstanding issues with House District 90.

The Tarrant County-based district was the sole exception the Supreme Court made in OK’ing the state’s maps last week. That district, which is held by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero, was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

It’s likely that opponents of the maps will push for the district to be redrawn, which could affect neighboring Republican-held districts. But as things stand now, the district will only be corrected in time for one election before it likely needs to be redrawn again after the 2020 census.

See here for the background. I don’t even have it in me to make a snarky comment. For seven years of litigation showing clear-cut bad acts to come down to tweaking one safely Democratic district for the 2020 election, it’s a cruel joke. And if the injustice of it all doesn’t motivate you for November, you’re part of the problem. The DMN has more.

SCOTUS upholds Texas redistricting

Screw this.

Extinguishing the possibility that Texas could be placed back under federal electoral supervision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday pushed aside claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they enacted the state’s congressional and state House maps.

In a 5-4 vote, the high court threw out a lower court ruling that had found that lawmakers intentionally undercut the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office. The Supreme Court found that the evidence was “plainly insufficient” to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in “bad faith.”

The Supreme Court also ruled that all but one of the 11 congressional and state House districts that had been flagged as problematic could remain intact. The one exception was Fort Worth-based House District 90, which is occupied by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero and was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, which keeps all but one of the state’s districts in place through the end of the decade, is a major blow to the maps’ challengers — civil rights groups, voters of color and Democratic lawmakers — who since 2011 have been fighting the Republican-controlled Legislature’s post-2010 Census adjustment of district boundaries.

[…]

Joined by the court’s three other liberal justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor denounced the majority’s opinion as a “disregard of both precedent and fact” in light of the “undeniable proof of intentional discrimination” against voters of color.

“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” Sotomayor wrote. “The fundamental right to vote is too precious to be disregarded in this manner.”

In siding with the state, the Supreme Court tossed out claims of intentional vote dilution in state House districts in Nueces County and Bell County as well as claims that Hispanic voters were “packed” into Dallas County districts to minimize their influence in surrounding districts. The high court also rejected challenges to Congressional District 27 — where the lower court said lawmakers diluted the votes of Hispanics in Nueces County — and Congressional District 35, which the lower court flagged as an impermissible racial gerrymander.

But perhaps most significant on the voting rights front was the Supreme Court’s ruling that the state could be not be held liable for intentional discrimination of Hispanic and black voters.

See here and here for the background. The opinion is here if you have the stomach for it. You sure can accomplish a lot if you close your eyes and wave away evidence. I don’t know what else there is for me to say, so I’ll just refer you to Pema Levy, Ian Millhiser, Martin Longman, and Mark Joseph Stern. What Rick Hasen wrote five years ago sure looks prescient now.

Court throws out State House map

Once more, with feeling.

Parts of the Texas House map must be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting several legislative districts, federal judges ruled on Thursday.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Texas must address violations that could affect the configuration of House districts in four counties, where lawmakers diluted the strength of voters of color. In some cases, the court found mapdrawers intentionally undercut minority voting power “to ensure Anglo control” of legislative districts.

These are the nine districts the court flagged:

  • Dallas County’s HD 103, represented by Democrat Rafael Anchia, HD 104, represented by Democrat Roberto Alonzo and HD 105, represented by Republican Rodney Anderson
  • Nueces County’s HD 32, represented by Republican Todd Hunter, and HD 34, represented by Democrat Abel Herrero
  • Bell County’s HD 54, represented by Republican Scott Cosper, and HD 55, represented by Republican Hugh Shine
  • Tarrant County’s HD 90, represented by Democrat Ramon Romero, and HD 93 represented by Matt Krause.

Adjusting those boundaries could have a ripple effect on other races.

[…]

In both the congressional and state House rulings, the court ordered Attorney General Ken Paxton to signal whether the Legislature would take up redistricting to fix violations in the maps.

But so far, state leaders have signaled they have no appetite to call lawmakers back to Austin over mapmaking. Instead, Texas is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep its political boundaries intact.

“The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law,” Paxton said in a Thursday statement. “Needless to say, we will appeal.”

Meanwhile, the state and the parties that sued over the congressional districts are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 5 to begin redrawing the congressional map. In its Thursday ruling, the court indicated they should be prepared to also meet on Sept. 6 to consider changes to the state House map.

“Today’s ruling once again found that Texas racially gerrymandered its voting districts and used Latino voters as pawns in doing so,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who is representing plaintiffs in the case. “With the 2018 election cycle fast approaching, it’s time for Texas to stop discriminating against Latino voters and agree to a remedy that will provide equal opportunity to all.”

It was just over a week ago that the same court invalidated the Congressional map, also calling it intentionally discriminatory. Add in the voter ID ruling and you’ve got three such judgments in a span of eight days; you can also toss in the ruling on interpreters for a four-game losing streak for the state. Don’t forget the Pasadena case, too – it’s not the state, but it is another intentional-discrimination opinion. Maybe this will all add up to enough to convince Chief Justice Roberts to change his mind about the state of voting rights and the need to protect communities of color.

Or not. I wouldn’t hold my breath. Be that as it may, this ruling could have an effect on the effort by wingnuts to oust House Speaker Joe Straus. RG Ratcliffe explains.

The court found that in Nueces County, the district maps discriminated in the placement of minority voters in a way that favored the re-election of Representative Todd Hunter, a key Straus Republican ally and chairman of the House committee that sets bills for debate on the daily calendar. To make his district safe, the court said Hispanic voters were packed into the district of Representative Abel Herrero, a Democrat. Redrawing the districts won’t automatically guarantee Hunter’s defeat, but it will make it more difficult for him to win re-election.

The court also ruled that the Legislature intentionally split a minority community in Killeen to guarantee the election of two white Republicans in Districts 54 and 55, Scott Cosper of Killeen and Hugh Shine of Temple. Both have backed Straus in the past. Putting the minority community in Killeen back together probably endangers Cosper’s re-election, and may put a Democrat in that rural district. Either way, this likely is a wash in the politics of electing the next speaker.

In Dallas and Tarrant counties, the court ruling likely would help Straus win re-election. In declaring that five districts in those two counties discriminated against minorities, the most likely losers in any redrawing of the district maps will be Republican Representatives Rodney Anderson of Irving and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. Anderson was among nineteen House members who voted against Straus in one election for speaker, and Krause is a member of the Freedom Caucus, which has been trying to force a speaker vote in the caucus instead of on the House floor, where Democrats also have a say.

Anderson barely squeaked by in 2016, in a district that was ever so slightly bluer than HD107, which flipped to the Dems. He was going to be a target no matter what. The ripple effect in Dallas could be very interesting. And of course, anything that puts jerks like Krause in jeopardy is a good thing. We’ll know if and when SCOTUS intervenes if a second special session will be forthcoming. A statement from MALC is here, and Michael Li, the Chron, the DMN, Rick Hasen, the HuffPost, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Court denies motion for appeals in redistricting case and sets trial date

We are moving along in this process after such a long long looooooooooooooooong wait to get here.

A three-judge panel on Monday denied Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request to appeal a March ruling that said the Legislature intentionally discriminated against minority voters when it approved new congressional districts in 2011.

Texas needed the federal court’s permission to appeal because the ruling was not a final order in the case.

During a hearing Thursday in San Antonio, the judges voiced skepticism about letting a separate appeal move forward on the 2011 map while the panel began the final phase of the case — a claim that the current U.S. House and Texas House maps, adopted in 2013, also discriminated against African-American and Latino voters.

The court also rejected Paxton’s request to toss out claims that the 2013 maps were drawn to intentionally discriminate against minority voters in violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Paxton had argued that the maps adopted by the Legislature in 2013 had originally been drawn by the three-judge court to cure voting rights problems found in the 2011 maps.

“The Legislature was entitled to presume that this court acted in good faith and without a racially discriminatory purpose,” Paxton argued.

But, the court ruled, the legal challenges focus on the intent of lawmakers, not judges, in adopting the U.S. House and Texas House district maps. Resolving those claims involves matters not appropriately decided on summary judgment, the order said.

See here and here for the background. The DMN adds on:

The court denied the state’s motions for summary judgments on its failure to create districts where there would be more Latino and black voting strength, and on assertions that the state used its “county line rule” to avoid doing so.

The county line rule stipulates that counties apportioned to districts must remain within that district. But plaintiffs argued that the state used the rule as a shield to avoid its obligation under the federal Voting Rights Act to create districts that would increase minority voting strength.

The judges denied a motion to resolve whether the state’s 2013 redrawing of House District 90 in Tarrant County violated the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment. Plaintiffs argued that the district was drawn to dilute Latino voting strength, but the state said the district has a contingent of active Latino voters and elected one, U.S. Rep. Ramon Romero, to its congressional seat.

The panel still needs to resolve the state’s requests and could issue a trial date this week. An attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, said last week he was confident there would be a summer trial. When asked Monday if that confidence remained, Jose Garza said: “You bet!”

Texas had also asked to appeal the court’s findings on the 2011 maps to the conservative-leaning 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where presumably it would have a more favorable audience. Because the case is being handled by a special panel, the court denied that motion, and any appeals will go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the time those stories came out, the judges had not released an order specifying a trial date. Now they have.

With the 2018 election cycle looming, a federal judge panel has set July 10 as the start date for a trial over the state’s House and congressional political maps.

In an order filed Monday, the three judges presiding over the case scheduled the five-day trial following a pair of rulings that found Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in initially drawing each map in 2011.

“The Court is aware of the condensed schedule that must be implemented in light of the 2018 election deadlines, and expects counsel and the parties to work diligently to meet the deadlines contained herein,” the panel wrote.

Rick Hasen has a copy of the scheduling order, which lays out all of the deadlines, the scope of evidence, how many maps each side can propose, and more. Any appeals will go straight to SCOTUS. Lord willing we’ll have ourselves some maps by the end of September or so. Michael Li has more.

Burnam drops electoral challenge

A good decision, in my opinion.

Rep. Lon Burnam

After months of legal wrangling, state Rep. Lon Burnam announced Thursday that he will not continue with his challenge of his primary election loss.

Shortly after losing on March 4 by 111 votes to local businessman Ramon Romero Jr., Burnam, D-Fort Worth, sued, saying the election for state House District 90 was tainted by illegal mail-in ballots.

Now, after three courts — including the state’s top civil court — refused to order the release of the applications for those ballots, Burnam has asked his legal team to drop the case.

“I did not make this decision because I believe my opponent won fairly, or that our suspicions of illegal conduct in the election have not played out,” Burnam said in a statement.

“I made this decision because the Texas Supreme Court has denied our final appeal for a subpoena to see county vote-by-mail records, making it impossible to prove that more than 111 ballots were illegally cast.

“These records will become public after the general election in November and I plan to revisit the issue at that time.”

Romero said he’s glad Burnam is dropping the lawsuit.

“We ran a race fair and square,” he said. “We asked people to vote for us and they did.

“I’m excited to begin the work of the district.”

See here for the last update. Not the most magnanimous exit by Burnam, and I’m not sure what the point of revisiting the issue after the November election is, but whatever. I’d feel more sympathy for Burnam if he hadn’t come close to parroting Republican talking points on vote fraud during the litigation. Having said all that, Lon Burnam was a strong progressive voice in the Legislature and he served with honor. He’ll be missed, and Rep.-elect Romero will have some big shoes to fill. The Texas Election Law Blog, who thinks Burnam got a raw deal from the courts and who has some thoughts about using iPads for absentee ballot applications, has more.

Supreme Court denies Burnam mandamus request

Rep. Lon Burnam

Late Friday I got an email from the Ramon Romero campaign touting the news that the State Supreme Court had denied a write of mandamus to Rep. Lon Burnam in his electoral challenge lawsuit. You can see the Supreme Court’s order here – scroll down to case 14-0372, the third one listed under “Miscellaneous”. See here, here, and here for the background – basically, he’s alleging that the Romero campaign’s use of iPads to process absentee ballot requests violates Texas electoral law, which only references fax machines. Burnam had asked that county election officials release all the applications turned in for mail-in ballots in this race to investigate potential illegalities such as an “illegal computerized-signature vote-by-mail operation”, with the goal being to have any absentee ballot requested via a Romero iPad thrown out. He was denied by the trial court judge on the grounds that he was fishing for information, then by the 2nd Court of Appeals, and now by the Supreme Court. State District Judge Robert McFarling had agreed to delay the trial until after the appeals court had ruled, and now Burnam has come to a dead end. Accordint to this Star-Telegram story that reported the Supreme Court ruling and recapped the story so far, Rep.-elect Romero has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which will be heard on June 16. If Burnam survives that, I presume a trial date will be next, unless he decides to drop the matter. It’s hard to see how Burnam can prove his case at this point, but I suppose one tends to keep hope alive for as long as one can. Anyway, the next update will be on or around June 16, unless Burnam gives up before then.

Burnam loses appeal in election contest

Another setback.

Rep. Lon Burnam

A local appeals court will not require Tarrant County election officials to release all applications for mail-in ballots received for this year’s race for House District 90.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who has represented House District 90 for nearly two decades, asked to review the paperwork because he believed it would show illegalities in this race — and that he didn’t lose his re-election bid.

In March, Burnam lost by 111 votes to local businessman Ramon Romero Jr.

“This is the first step to the end of the line,” Romero said Monday. “Now I can tell people there won’t be a cloud over our victory party.

“I’ve been waiting for this to happen. This [lawsuit] is not what our voters deserve.”

Texas’ 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth issued a brief ruling late Monday saying Burnam’s appeal was denied.

Art Brender, one of Burnam’s attorneys, said he plans to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court within days.

“It’s ironic at a time when we’re having debates over whether you have to have a picture ID to vote in person at a poll, … you’ve got increasingly very shadowy procedures now being sanctioned by voting by mail,” said Brender, former chairman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party. “We’re going to keep fighting it.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. I have to say, I’ve been a fan of Lon Burnam, I was sad when he lost, and I agree that the law as written doesn’t specifically address the use of handheld electronic devices in processing absentee ballot requests. But that’s all that we’re talking about here, a possible technical violation of the law, which a court may or may not see as invalidating some number of those ballot requests. Allegations of impropriety and adopting Republican rhetoric about voter ID are misguided and harmful, and they threaten to tarnish Burnam’s legacy. I’m fine with pursuing the technical question of the law – it’s Burnam’s right to do so – but I don’t support this. Don’t lose your soul in pursuit of keeping your job, Lon.

Burnam challenge awaiting appeal

Another update on the ongoing legal challenge by State Rep. Lon Burnam, who wants his loss in the primary to Ramon Romero thrown out on the grounds that some applications for absentee ballots by Romero voters involved the use of iPads, which are not included as permissible devices in the relevant state law.

Rep. Lon Burnam

In a hearing earlier this month, attorneys representing Burnam asked that county election officials release all the applications turned in for mail-in ballots in this race to investigate potential illegalities such as an “illegal computerized-signature vote-by-mail operation.”

State District Judge Robert McFarling of Denton, the visiting judge appointed to the case, turned down the request. Burnam’s attorney, former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairman Art Brender, has filed an appeal, asking the Fort Worth Court of Appeals to overturn that ruling.

McFarling on Monday agreed to delay the trial until the Court of Appeals rules. The case was scheduled to go to trial Tuesday.

Brender said he was glad for the delay.

“We are continuing our investigation every day,” he said. “And we are investigating other aspects of the election — and have been the whole time.”

Romero’s staff said they believe the final ruling will go their way.

“We are confident in the legal system,” said Michael “Mikey” Valdez, Romero’s campaign manager. “We feel the right decision will be made and it will confirm our victory.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I presume that’s the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and not the “Fort Worth Court of Appeals” since as far as I know there is no such thing. I don’t have anything to add to this story, but on a related note both Campos and Michael Li complained about an email Burnam sent out, presumably as an update on his case and as a fundraising appeal. Burnam is litigating a technicality, and technicalities don’t have much fundraising appeal. Trying to make it more than that risks alienating supporters and handing Republicans political ammunition. Burnam may win his challenge, but I’ll say again that I see nothing wrong in what Romero’s campaign did, nor do I see any reason why the law shouldn’t be amended to specifically allow it. Don’t lose sight of who you are in your quest to stay in office, Lon.

What the Burnam case is about

I’m still not sure what to think about Rep. Lon Burnam’s electoral challenge against Ramon Romero in HD90.

Rep. Lon Burnam

In a case that election officials statewide are monitoring — because it involves the use of electronic devices such as iPads — attorneys say enough ballots are in question to make a difference in the race Burnam lost by 111 votes to local businessman Ramon Romero Jr.

“We feel like there’s basically voter fraud and illegality that went on out there,” said Art Brender, a local lawyer and former Tarrant County Democratic Party chairman who is on the legal team representing Burnam. “We’ll know pretty soon.”

Romero, a businessman who owns A-Fast Coping Tile and Stone, said he believes this case will be resolved soon — in his favor.

“We didn’t have tablets. What he’s alleging has nothing to do with our campaign,” he said. “I don’t believe there was anything illegal that happened. It is sad that this is where we are. We should be moving forward.”

[…]

Burnam’s lawsuit alleges that some voters in the district were approached by campaign workers who asked them to fill out applications to vote by mail on an electronic device such as an iPad.

Burnam wants to review these applications, saying he believes “that these documents and other testimony will establish beyond question that the computerized-signature operation was illegal and that I won the election.”

His legal challenge claims that of the nearly 5,100 votes cast in this race, 951 were mail-in ballots — more than enough to decide the election.

But his request for copies of all applications for mail-in ballots was rejected Friday during a hearing before state District Judge Robert McFarling of Denton, who recently was appointed to oversee the case.

Ann Diamond with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office argued against releasing all the applications, saying they are not publicly available and they include private information (telephone numbers, addresses and more). About 30 of the forms have been released.

Brender maintains that the records are public information and what he has reviewed already shows that at least three people may have voted twice — once in early voting and once on election day. A review of all the applications could show even more problems and potentially invalidate enough ballots to flip the election results.

McFarling chose to not order the release of that information, saying even if there was a problem with the way a ballot was requested, the vote should still be counted.

And he said there was no proof that data requested would lead to “admissible evidence” in the case.

“You have to have a factual basis … before we start messing with the rights of individuals to vote,” he said. “I don’t think it’s sufficient to say … we think there might be something wrong … and we want to check it out.”

See here and here for the background. I have no opinion on this particular ruling, I’m more interested in the big picture.

A key issue in this case is the use of electronic devices to request mail-in ballots — and whether that’s legal in Texas.

Political observers say the state’s Election Code only addresses electronic signatures at polling places, such as when voters cast their ballot during early voting or on Election Day.

“The use of an iPad to fill out forms to request an absentee ballot would not appear to comply with the letter of state election law, but would appear to be in line with the spirit of the law,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“The law simply has not been updated to take account of the rising use of iPads and other mobile devices, leaving a vacuum in the state’s election law.”

Stephen Vickers, chief deputy elections administrator in Tarrant County, said he couldn’t comment on the case because of the pending litigation.

The ultimate ruling in this case may well determine how election officials statewide process mail-in ballots for at least the rest of the year.

“This case also should hopefully spur the Texas Legislature to modify the state’s election law during the 2015 legislative session to allow for the use of electronic devices to complete mail-in ballot request forms,” Jones said. “Perhaps that reform will be the first bill that Rep. Romero files.”

[…]

Officials with both major political parties say they are watching this case.

“We trust the courts will take the issue seriously … [and] determine the best manner in which to proceed,” said Manny Garcia, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party.

Said Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri: “We are interested observers to see what the court rules to see if we are following the law correctly.”

There’s been some trolling about voter ID on this, but of course the voter ID law is only about in person ballots, and this challenge is all about absentee ballots. Technically, it’s not about the ballots themselves, but about the process to request an absentee ballot, and whether an iPad or similar device is allowable under the law as written. By the letter of the law I’d say not, but by the spirit – the law does allow for “telephone facsimile machines” – it’s clearly a Yes. I have no idea how the courts – or the Legislature, if this eventually winds up as an election contest to be adjudicated by the Lege – will rule, but I definitely agree (and have already said) that the law should be updated to allow this usage. There’s no good reason for it not to be allowed. There is good reason to be concerned about the peripheral effects of this case:

Romero said he wasn’t surprised by the lawsuit. But he believes this isn’t something “as Democrats that we should be insinuating.”

“Lots of people came out and were excited about being part of the primary. Now they don’t understand what’s going on,” he said. “They hear words of illegality and that scares people and makes them stay away.

“He should be welcoming me in Austin, helping with the transition. Instead, he’s doing this,” Romero said. “But he has a right to do this and we’re not mad at him. We’ll be down in Austin come January.”

I agree with Romero on this, and if his magnanimity is any indication, he’ll make a fine State Rep if he prevails in this case. Whatever the outcome, let’s make sure we update that law.

Burnam election challenge update

Moving along, but no timeline as yet.

Rep. Lon Burnam

A state district judge from Denton County will oversee a case involving long-time state Rep. Lon Burnam‘s accusations that votes were cast illegally in the Democratic Party primary last month.

State District Judge Robert McFarling was appointed Friday by state District Judge David Evans, the administrative judge for the Eighth Judicial Region. McFarling will replace state District Judge R.H. Wallace.

The Texas Election Code dictates that a judge from outside the county hear a case involving an election challenge.

[…]

Burnam has also filed motions to subpoena former Elections Administrator Steve Raborn and interim Elections Administrator Stephen Vickers.

Raborn announced his resignation in December and will become president of Votec, a company based in San Diego, Calif., that focuses on voter registration and election management software.

Raborn’s motion stated that the elections administrator is neutral, but is required to protect records from unauthorized release and that the elections office is compiling records that can be released publicly.

“Because the documents sought involve the privacy rights of hundreds of people, they cannot be released to the litigants merely to satisfy their curiosity if there is no reason to believe votes were cast by persons who were not entitled to vote, or to believe that persons who were entitled to vote were denied the right to vote,” the motion stated.

His motion went on to say that no mail ballots from District 90 were denied, and that the question is whether there may be persons who voted who may not be entitled to vote.

See here for the background. As I said before, the question Burnam is raising is pretty straightforward – does the elections code as it exists allow for mobile computers to process vote by mail applications? – though obviously open to interpretation. I’ll be surprised if this one doesn’t wind up before the Supreme Court eventually, however it gets decided initially. Again, I think the law should allow what Ramon Romero’s campaign team did, and I think someone should write a bill to clarify the laws in question regardless of how this case is decided. It would be fitting if whoever wins this lawsuit is the one that files the bill.

Burnam files challenge in HD90

This ought to be interesting.

Rep. Lon Burnam

State Rep. Lon Burnam filed a lawsuit Monday challenging his 111-vote re-election loss earlier this month.

Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said the goal of the lawsuit is to review data from the Texas House District 90 election “to determine if there were hundreds of illegally cast ballots.”

“I believe I have no choice after receiving multiple reports of an illegal computerized-signature vote-by-mail operation run to benefit my opponent,” Burnam said in a statement. “This operation appears to have clearly violated state law.”

Local businessman Ramon Romero Jr. won the race for this House seat, besting Burnam — dean of the Tarrant County delegation — earlier this month, local election records show.

[…]

In a lawsuit styled Lon Burnam v. Ramon Romero, Burnam noted that nearly 1,000 of the 5,078 votes cast in this race were absentee mail-in ballots — which could have been a deciding factor.

On Election Night, the race for this seat was close, sometimes only separated by a handful of votes. When the final count was released, Romero pulled ahead by 111 votes to claim victory.

“I have received reports from voters in the district who say they were approached at their door by campaign workers of unclear affiliation who asked them to fill out a vote-by-mail application on an electronic tablet device such as an iPad,” Burnam said in his statement.

“Texas law clearly does not allow the practice of filling out vote-by-mail ballot applications electronically, which the Texas Secretary of State’s has confirmed. Other questionable practices about this operation aside, this renders the entire operation illegal.”

Quorum Report was first with the story, and they have a copy of Burnam’s lawsuit, which was filed in district court in Tarrant County. Here’s the relevant bit from the lawsuit:

6. The Contestee (Romero) canvassed neighborhoods seeking persons to apply to vote by mail. His representatives used an iPad with an application on it that that was an application for a ballot by mail. The canvassers would simply ask the voter to sign the iPad. These signatures would be downloaded as a printed application and sent to the election officials so that a ballot could be mailed to the voter. Such assistance provided to a voter requires the signature of the assistant on the application for ballot by mail. Texas Election Code, S 84.003.

7. On information and belief there are in excess of 180 such applications obtained in this manner. This exceeds the margin of votes between Contestant and Contestee.

CAUSE OF ACTION

8. Obtaining ballots by using this device invalidates the votes. The only time that the code allows electronic signatures is at the polling place. See Section 63.002′ Electronic devices used in the voting process must be approved by the Secretary of State, which in this case, has not been done. The Secretary of State says that the only authority for using electronic signatures is code Section 63.002 which limits such signatures to use at the polling place. There is no other authority for using electronic signatures in an uncontrolled environment as was done here. See the attached communication from the Secretary of. State on this issue which is attached hereto as Exhibit ” A” and incorporated by reference herein in this petition.

The attached email correspondence is pretty clear. On the one hand, if Burnam is correct in his interpretation, which basically comes down to claiming that an iPad is not a “telephonic facsimile machine” and that an electronic signature is not acceptable in this scenario, then depending on how many votes really were affected it could swing the race. On the other hand, if this is the way Texas law currently is then it ought to be updated. There may be a good policy rationale for not allowing handheld devices to handle these applications, but I can’t see it off the top of my head. Barring the revelation of any such rationale, I’d support changing the law to allow what Romero’s team did – honestly, it strikes me as a good way to increase turnout. But if this is how the law is, then however sensible this use of technology may have been it would not be legal. Burnam is represented by Buck Wood and Art Brender, former Chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, so I presume they know what they’re doing. I’ll be very interested to see Romero’s response. No idea as yet what the timetable is for this. If any lawyers want to weigh in on this, as always please do. Thanks to Texas Redistricting for the heads up, and BOR has more.

Ramon Romero

The Fort Worth Business Press profiles Rep.-elect Ramon Romero and his winning race against longtime incumbent Rep. Lon Burnam in HD90.

Rep. Ramon Romero

Ramon Romero Jr. describes himself as “that poor boy from Poly,” one of eight children of immigrant parents who grew up in working-class southeast Fort Worth, started his first business when he was 20 and ultimately became an up-by-the-bootstraps success story.

Now, at 40, Romero is poised to become the first Latino state representative from Tarrant County after carving out an 111-vote Democratic primary victory over the dean of Tarrant County’s legislative delegation, Rep. Lon Burnam, a 17-year House member who is known as one of the chamber’s liberal firebrands.

The victory was widely seen as a triumph for Texas Hispanics, who have propelled much of the state’s population growth over the past 15 years, as well as perhaps an inevitable transition in House District 90, an inner-city Fort Worth district where Latinos constitute nearly 76 percent of the population and almost 72 percent of the registered voters.

Burnam took office in 1997, succeeding legendary State Rep. Doyle Willis, who served in both the House and the Senate for a total 42 years to become the second longest serving member in the Legislature.

During his time in the House, Burnam developed a reputation for passionately defending the interests of his district but acknowledges that as an Anglo lawmaker, he was becoming increasingly vulnerable to the rapid-fire expansion of the Hispanic electorate.

Burnam survived his first serious challenge in 2012 against school board trustee Carlos Vasquez. But he was unable to withstand the assault from Romero, a well-known member of the community who was fresh from a runoff bid for the Fort Worth City Council in 2012 and had the backing of prominent Tarrant County Hispanic leaders, including Councilman Sal Espino and Justice of the Peace Sergio De Leon.

Romero’s biggest financial backer was wealthy Dallas lawyer Domingo Garcia, who ran unsuccessfully for the 33rd District congressional seat in 2012 and has been a vocal advocate for expanding Hispanic representation in Congress and the Legislature. He donated a total of $35,000 to Romero.

[…]

Romero grew up in the Polytechnic neighborhood, graduating from Polytechnic High School in 1992. He was barely in his 20s when he started a swimming pool construction company and later developed a stone distribution venture. Although he vaulted upward on the economic ladder, Romero says he has never wanted to leave the neighborhood where he grew up and looks forward to serving those he grew up with.

“People in District 90 related more to Ramon Romero than they did to Lon Burnam,” he said. He acknowledged that Burnam “worked for the district and definitely fought for the district” but said the lawmaker didn’t face and understand some the same challenges as those “who face them on a daily basis.”

Romero said he began eyeing a run for Burnam’s seat “almost immediately” after his unsuccessful council bid against Kelly Allen Gray, who wonthe District 8 council seat. He said he consulted Espino, who helped him analyze his chances of mounting a successful campaign.

A major element in his strategy was to develop a tri-ethnic coalition composed of whites, blacks and Hispanics, Romero said, dismissing post-election talk that the campaign was designed solely to propel an Hispanic into office.

“I could not have won this by the Hispanic vote alone,” he said. “It’s time we get past that conversation. It’s about the person that related to the community.”

Although Garcia’s financial support raised claims of outside influence and prompted talk that the Dallas attorney was trying to build a base for a future congressional run, Romero said Garcia took no role in the campaign other than to offer encouragement and to “support me financially when I needed it.”

“Domingo really had no role,” Romero said. “He didn’t come out to campaign. He simply gave me support.”

Burnam largely attributed his loss to the “demographic shift” in the district, saying “people mainly tend to vote based on their own personal identity.” He said he recognized the “obvious trend” and was even prepared to ultimately to support an Hispanic “replacement” to take over the seat.

“I would have been perfectly happy to stand aside in 2014 had we found what I consider the person who is truly representative of the value system of the district,” he said. “I don’t think Mr. Romero is.”

During the campaign, Burnam depicted Romero as a Republican-friendly “fake Democrat.” Romero flatly dismissed the assertion and said he has never voted Republican.”

First, let me again congratulate Rep.-elect Romero on his victory. I join many others in saying I’ll miss Rep. Burnam, but Romero earned his win and I wish him nothing but success. It’s fair to say, as one commenter on his Facebook page noted, that he has “giant shoes to fill” and “will be watched like a hawk by many skeptics”. One hopes the latter is true of all elected officials. I didn’t follow this race but I look forward to seeing what Rep.-elect Romero brings to the Legislature.

Primary results: Legislature and Congress

Rep. Lon Burnam

The big news on the Democratic side is the close loss by longtime Rep. Lon Burnam in HD90, who fell by 111 votes to Ramon Romero Jr. I know basically nothing about Rep.-elect Romero, but I do know that Rep. Burnam has been a progressive stalwart, and it is sad to see him go. His district is heavily Latino, and he defeated a Latino challenger in 2012, but fell short this year. Congratulations to Rep.-elect Romero. Also in Tarrant County, Annie’s List-backed Libby Willis will carry the Democratic banner in SD10 to try to hold the seat being vacated by Wendy Davis. Elsewhere in Democratic legislative primaries, Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, who earned a Ten Worst spot this past session for a DUI bust during the session, was running third for her seat. Cesar Blanco, a former staffer for Rep. Pete Gallego, was leading with over 40% and will face either Gonzalez or Norma Chavez, whom Gonzalez had defeated in a previous and very nasty primary. I’m rooting for Blanco in either matchup. All other Dem incumbents won, including Rep. Mary Gonzalez in HD75. Congressional incumbents Eddie Berniece Johnson and Marc Veasey cruised to re-election, while challengers Donald Brown (CD14), Frank Briscoe (CD22), and Marco Montoya (CD25) all won their nominations.

On the Republican side, the endorsements of Rafael Cruz and Sarah Palin were not enough for Katrina Pierson in CD32, as Rep. Pete Sessions waltzed to a 68% win. Rep. Ralph Hall, who was born sometime during the Cretaceous Era, will be in a runoff against John Ratcliffe in CD04. All other GOP Congressional incumbents won, and there will be runoffs in CDs 23 and 36, the latter being between Brian Babin and Ben Streusand. I pity the fool that has to follow Steve Stockman’s act.

Some trouble in the Senate, as Sen. Bob Deuell appears headed for a runoff, and Sen. John Carona appears to have lost. Sen. Donna Campbell defeats two challengers. Those latter results ensure the Senate will be even dumber next session than it was last session. Konni Burton and Marc Shelton, whom Wendy Davis defeated in 2012, are in a runoff for SD10.

Multiple Republican State Reps went down to defeat – George Lavender (HD01), Lance Gooden (HD04), Ralph Sheffield (HD55), Diane Patrick (HD94), Linda Harper-Brown (HD105), and Bennett Ratliff (HD115). As I said last night, overall a fairly tough night for Texas Parent PAC. Rep. Stefani Carter (HD102), who briefly abandoned her seat for an ill-fated run for Railroad Commissioner, trailed Linda Koop heading into a runoff.

I’ll have more thoughts on some of these races later. I’d say the “establishment” Republican effort to push back on the Empower Texas/teabagger contingent is at best a work in progress. May open an opportunity or two for Dems – I’d say HD115 is now on their list in a way that it wouldn’t have been against Rep. Ratliff – but barring anything strange we should expect more of the same from the Lege in 2015.

The out candidates

There are four LGBT candidates running for the Lege this year.

Ann Johnson, Carlos Vasquez, Ray Hill, and Mary Gonzalez

Since 2003, when Austin Democrat Glen Maxey left the Texas House, no out LGBT person has served in the Texas Legislature.

The Lone Star State is now one of only 18 states that lacks an openly LGBT state legislator, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Washington, D.C.-based PAC that backs out candidates nationwide.

But at least four LGBT candidates for Texas House will be seeking to change that this year.

Victory Fund spokesman Dennis Dison said the group has not yet endorsed any of the candidates, and the filing period for May 29 primaries just ended last week. But Dison said he believes electing openly LGBT candidates to public office is a crucial part of passing pro-equailty legislation.

“No state legislature has instituted [same-sex] partnership rights without having out LGBT officials in the legislature,” Dison said. “We have seen in cases where there is just a sole legislator, that it can have a huge impact in terms of our community and changing people’s minds about who we are.”

This story was run in March, and it’s been on my to-be-blogged list since then. Of the four, I knew about Ann Johnson and Ray Hill, both of whom are here in Harris County. I did not know that Mary Gonzalez (HD75, El Paso) or Carlos Vasquez (HD90, Tarrant County) were gay prior to reading this. Apparently, Gonzalez’s sexual orientation has become an issue in the campaign, though thankfully not without some pushback. Gonzalez, who is running for the seat that has been vacated by Rep. Chente Quintanilla, appears to be the frontrunner; she has been endorsed by Annie’s List, she is working hard, and she’s the leading fundraiser. Of the four, only Johnson is assured of being on the November ballot, but she’s also the only one who goes into November as an underdog – the others are all basically assured of election if they win in May. Hill, who is running what can fairly be described as a quixotic campaign against State Rep. Garnet Coleman, is highly unlikely to get that far. Vasquez is running against Rep. Lon Burnam. That’s unfortunate in the sense that there are many other districts where a Vasquez win would advance the cause of gay rights and other progressive ideals a lot more than a win against Burnam would, but that’s how it goes. Burnam was recently endorsed by the Star-Telegram and also has a significant fundraising lead, but he’s in a district that was drawn to be won by a Latino and the heightened turnout generated by the CD33 primary is likely to work against him. This one could go either way. Anyway, read the story and see what these candidates are about.

On a related note, a more recent edition of the Dallas Voice has a profile of George Clayton, the Dallas-area SBOE member who won his seat in an out-of-nowhere victory in the 2010 primary against long-time member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller. Clayton is the first out gay person to be elected to office in Texas as a Republican (and only one of 20 out of over 500 total nationwide), though his orientation was not widely known at that time. He’s opposed by Miller and two other candidates in this year’s primary and says his sexuality has not been an issue on the campaign trail; nonetheless, if he wins again I’d have to say it’s at least as remarkable an achievement as his first win was. He’s generally been aligned with the non-crazy Republican wing of the SBOE, so I wish him the best of luck.

30 Day finance reports, other state races

To complete my tour of the 30 day finance reports, here are the 30 day finance reports from Democratic legislative primaries around the state.

Dist Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash ========================================================== 035 Gus Ruiz 11,047 27,858 25,000 2,067 035 Joseph Campos 18,620 4,338 0 0 035 Oscar Longoria 34,421 47,823 61,000 42,704 040 TC Betancourt 6,015 8,857 0 0 040 Gus Hernandez 30,714 41,857 1,212 1,301 040 Robert Pena 6,750 26,425 30,000 10,148 040 Terry Canales 4,000 43,661 0 0 074 Poncho Nevarez 22,977 15,470 12,200 2,062 074 Efrain Valdez 074 Robert Garza 400 17,296 0 0 075 Mary Gonzalez 56,725 27,517 0 26,571 075 Hector Enriquez 8,925 19,927 0 19,927 075 Tony San Ramon 3,650 2,078 1,000 92 077 Marisa Marquez 77,921 51,394 0 44,051 077 Aaron Barraza 35,607 24,983 0 8,814 090 Lon Burnam 88,523 67,827 0 68,372 090 Carlos Vasquez 16,382 9,647 0 10,955 095 Dulani Masimini 1,990 2,356 0 0 095 Nicole Collier 27,486 9,701 242 17,660 101 Paula Pierson 27,935 50,666 16,000 39,860 101 Chris Turner 65,398 58,155 0 60,395 101 Vickie Barnett 0 6,645 0 6,645 107 Don Parish 107 Richie Butler 107 Carol Kent 110 Toni Rose 55,328 14,929 0 3,578 110 Larry Taylor 9,820 7,561 0 2,456 110 Cedric Davis 6,010 7,470 0 968 117 Tina Torres 49,936 73,040 0 45,270 117 Philip Cortez 31,985 31,700 0 19,474 125 Delicia Herrera 15,580 13,905 0 1,786 125 Justin Rodriguez 40,970 33,419 0 65,832

Efrain Valdez has a report that’s been filed but not posted. Carol Kent and Richie Butler only have January reports that I can see, while Don Parish has none. If I show a zero in the cash on hand column, it’s because that was either listed as zero or left blank by the campaign. In some cases, such as Terry Canales, it’s because the candidate mostly spent personal funds. In the case of Toni Rose, her cash on hand totals is as small as it is given her amounts raised and spent because most of her contributions are in kind from Annie’s List – basically, they paid most of her campaign expenses for this period.

Of the 12 races here, eight are for open seats: HDs 35 (GOPer Jose Aliseda was drawn into HD43 and chose to run for a local office instead); 40 (Aaron Pena, and good riddance); 74 (Pete Gallego); 75 (Chente Quintanilla); 95 (Marc Veasey); 101 (new district in Tarrant County); 110 (Barbara Mallory Caraway); and 125 (Joaquin Castro). Quintanilla is running for El Paso County Commissioner, the other Democrats are running for Congress. HDs 77 and 90 are challenges to incumbent Dems, and HDs 107 (Kenneth Sheets) and 117 (John Garza) are Republican-held seats.

Annie’s List is a prominent player in these races – they are backing Mary Gonzalez, Nicole Collier, Paula Hightower Pierson, Toni Rose, Carol Kent, and Tina Torres. Justin Rodriguez is endorsed by Texas Parent PAC and also by the AFL-CIO, as are Phillip Cortez, Collier, Lon Burnam, Terry Canales, Oscar Longoria, and two candidates in HD74, Robert Garza and Poncho Nevarez.

I can’t say I’ve followed these races closely, but the Trib has had some coverage of the contests in HD75, HD77, and HD101. For the El Paso race, the Lion Star Blog has been an invaluable resource; I wish there were something like that for San Antonio and Dallas/Fort Worth. BOR had a nice overview of the legislative races last week. The one other tidbit I’ll pass along is this DMN endorsement of HD110 candidate Larry Taylor, which contained this head-scratcher:

[Taylor] acknowledges that he voted for the GOP in the 2008 primary, which created a ruckus when aired during a recent candidate forum. Taylor noted that this was a somewhat popular choice for Democrats in 2008. He voted Democratic in the general election and he assures us that this is indeed where his political heart lies. A key party leader agrees.

I’m more tolerant than some of Dem candidates with GOP primary histories, but I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why any Dem would have voted in the GOP primary in 2008, of all years. The common “I had a friend in a judicial primary” trope is not on exhibit here, and it would have been somewhat ridiculous in Dallas County, where Dems have dominated the last three countywide elections. I have no idea why Taylor would claim that was a “somewhat popular choice for Democrats” in 2008; 2.8 million Democratic primary voters would demur. I don’t know Mr. Taylor and I don’t know how credible he sounds when he discusses this, all I know is that my jaw hit the table when I read that.

Anyway. That’s it for now with finance reports. Those of you who know more about these candidates than I do, please weigh in on them. Thanks!

Primary news: HD90, HD113, HCDE

State Rep. Lon Burnam has an opponent in March.

Fort Worth School Board trustee Carlos Vasquez has announced he will challenge state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, in next year’s Democratic primary.

Vasquez, a former elementary school principal, has been on the board since 2008 representing the district’s north side.

“After careful consideration I have come to the conclusion that many of the problems faced with public education are attributable to a broken State Government in Austin,” Vasquez wrote on Facebook. “With over four billion dollars cut in public education we need to refocus on what matters most, a strong public school system.

“Today, I am announcing my candidacy for State Representative in District 90 in the Democratic Primary of 2012.”

I think it’s fair to say that Rep. Burnam was not part of the problem that Vasquez identifies, but that’s neither here nor there. HD90 is a heavily Latino district, and Burnam nearly drew a Latino challenger in 2010. It should be noted that the new district in Tarrant County, currently listed as HD101, was drawn with a Latino plurality, but in practice I believe is more likely to elect an African-American. Be that as it may, I like Rep. Burnam and think he plays a very useful role in the Legislature, but as I’ve said before nobody is entitled to a seat. If Vasquez believes he can do a better job protecting the interests of public schools and representing HD90, then let’s hear what he has to say.

Over in Dallas, one of the Republicans that was paired up in the legislative redistricting has announced her intent to run again.

Mesquite Republican Cindy Burkett announced Tuesday that she would seek re-election to the Texas House.

Burkett will run in the newly constituted District 113, where she was paired after redistricting with incumbent lawmaker Joe Driver of Garland.

It’s possible that Driver and Burkett will have meet each other in March for what would be a hotly contested Republican primary race.

Burkett won the former HD101 last year, ousting freshman Rep. Robert Miklos. The new HD113 is quite purple, so with any luck it won’t matter whether Burkett or Driver and his ethical issues emerges from the primary.

Finally, here in Harris County I had recently mentioned the Precinct 1 HCDE Trustee seat, currently held by Roy Morales and referred to by me as the single easiest pickup opportunity for Dems next year. I am pleased to report that via email, TaShon Thomas has informed me that he will make an official announcement of his candidacy for that seat next month. Thomas is a senior Administration of Justice major at TSU and the Chief of Staff in the President’s office of the TSU student government. I met him a year or so ago at a Harris County Young Democrats meeting; he actually qualifies as a Young Dem, I was there as a guest speaker. Here’s his Facebook page if you want to know more about him.

Potential challenger for Burnam

Via Campos, I see that State Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth may get a primary challenger next year.

City Councilman Sal Espino has heard a lot of frustration from constituents about what state lawmakers did not accomplish in the recently completed legislative session.

Now, he’s trying to see what he can do about it and is considering whether to challenge state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, for the District 90 state House seat in next year’s Democratic Party primary.

“There’s a lot of frustration about what is happening in Austin,” said Espino, who has served on the City Council since 2005. “There are a lot of issues [about] cities and local governments that are not being addressed.

“Fort Worth is the largest city in Texas without a Hispanic representing a House seat,” he said. “I don’t think [Burnam] has been able to get much meaningful legislation passed, although I admire his battle against the prior speaker.”

Burnam, who was elected to District 90 in 1996 on his third try, said he believes that Espino should stay where he is, especially because he was re-elected this year to another two-year term on the Fort Worth City Council.

“Sal has no experience in this arena,” Burnam said. “There is a role for people like Sal, but more importantly, there is a role for people like me . . . to stand up against [former House Speaker Tom] Craddick, to stand up over and over again. It takes people with experience and leadership to make a difference.”

I like Rep. Burnam, and as I said before I think he needs to be judged on a different set of criteria than some other Reps, as he plays a different role. I can understand the frustration his constituents may have about a lack of action in the Lege, but let’s face it: This was the first session since 2001 that was reasonably conducive to Democratic interests, though that was only to the point where the Republican insistence on voter ID derailed everything in its path. In short, there’s only so much that could have been done. Whether Rep. Burnam’s constituents agree with that, or see his role as I do, that’s the question.