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Joe Farias

Overview of two Bexar County legislative primaries

The turnover of Bexar County’s Democratic legislative caucus continues apace. With the departures in 2015 of Mike Villarreal and Jose Menendez (succeeded by Diego Bernal and Ina Minjarez, respectively) and the departures this year by Joe Farias, Trey Martinez-Fischer, and Ruth Jones McClendon, there will be a whole lot of Bexar County legislators being sworn in on January 2, 2017 that weren’t there two years before. The Rivard Report takes a look at the three candidates who hope to succeed TMF in HD116.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez are not exactly household names in San Antonio, but all three candidates are hoping past political training or staff experience propel them into elected office. The primary winner – or May 24 runoff winner if a second round of voting is necessary – will run unopposed on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot and be sworn into office in January.

[…]

A Jefferson High School graduate, Arévalo served on the San Antonio Youth Commission and became involved with student government while attending college. She majored in business, earning a bachelor’s degree at UTSA and a master’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. As an undergraduate, Arévalo was a fellow at the United Leaders Institute for Political Service at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and she attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University.

She worked as an intern in U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office, and at the Obama White House in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. She parlayed these and other experiences into a chance to work with the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee, and on President Obama’s 2013 inaugural committee.

Back home, Arévalo has served as secretary of the Bexar County Democratic Party, and currently chairs the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention Host Committee. Her party work led to an opportunity to manage the 2013 City Council campaign of Leticia Ozuna, who finished second in a three way-race won by Rebecca Viagran. Arévalo said she learned a lot from the experience that she now is applying in her own campaign.

[…]

Golando, 38, is a native Midwesterner who has called San Antonio home for 17 years. He earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law and is a partner in the downtown law firm Garza Golando Moran, specializing in election and civil rights laws. Golando has the most direct connection to Martinez Fischer. He has worked for him for 10 years, including time as his chief of staff. Galindo said he focused on water policy, taxation and legislative procedure.

Golando has served for two years as general counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus, and he has served as a co-counsel during the hotly contested Texas redistricting case and all challenges to the Texas Voter ID law. In 2013, Golando was briefly in the national spotlight. In the wake of the legislative redistricting fight that began in 2011, Golando requested repayment from the state of more than $282,000 in legal fees he said he incurred while helping the caucus in its legal battle.

The state’s Attorney General’s office, then under Greg Abbott’s leadership, said Golando was ineligible for repayment because of his dual employment. Golando has kept up the legal battle, and the case is still active.

[…]

Resendez is the first graduate of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s program to prepare young Latinas for public service who is seeking elected office, which led to this recent story on the Rivard Report.

“People want to have good, high-quality, high-paying jobs. People also want to make sure senior citizens’ needs are met,” Resendez said she has learned in her district campaigning. “There are good ideas in the community. We’re getting out onto the streets to help find solutions to conflicts in our neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, the Express News provides a glimpse of the six candidates running to succeed McClendon in HD120.

On the Democrats’ March 1 ballot — listed in the following order — are Lou Miller, Latronda Darnell, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Art Hall, Mario Salas and Byron Miller.

[…]

Lou Miller, an insurance agent and district governor for Rotary International who served on the city zoning commission and the VIA Transit board, said he knows “how to get things done even as a non-elected official,” having helped lure a planned health clinic to the East Side.

He said he’d continue McClendon’s push to build a state office complex near downtown, a $135 million proposal that was approved by lawmakers in 2015 but vetoed by Abbott as too costly.

Darnell, a former legislative staffer to McClendon, said social justice issues are an overriding concern, along with improving education. Having served in the Legislature, she said she already has working relationships with key lawmakers and state officials, and her experience there taught her that “what happens in Austin happens to you.”

Working for McClendon, who had served District 120 since 1996, Darnell said she learned that “to serve 120 means to be engaged with this community.” And while candidates may have great ideas, change won’t happen if a lawmaker doesn’t have good rapport with other leaders.

Gervin-Hawkins, an educator who serves as executive director and superintendent of the George Gervin Youth Center, cited education as her focus, including faith-based, non-profit and public schools.

Calling these “pivotal times,” she said “what’s needed in Austin right now is someone with diplomacy, strategic planning and the ability to make things happen.” Lamenting a disinterested electorate, she said “we’ve got to give people hope again.” And citing rivalries exposed by the campaign, Gervin-Hawkins said “it’s about how we work together. Let’s unify. ”

Hall, a Harvard grad who earned a law degree from Texas Tech, likewise said education would be his top concern. The attorney who served on City Council and works as a district director for Alamo Colleges, said he’s wants to apply the financial and international business acumen he gained in the private sector.

“We deserve good, strong leadership to carry on the legacy that Ruth Jones McClendon and many others have left behind,” Hall said. Citing his role as a minister, Hall departed from the rest by saying he doesn’t condone same-sex marriage.

Salas, an educator who served on City Council and the Judson ISD board, wants teachers to be treated better by the state, along with minorities and women.

“We need a fighter in that position and I intend to wind it up,” Salas said. He called attention to his long involvement in racial equality and social justice causes and touted his backing by teacher groups. In Austin, Salas said he’s ready to fight “this jaugernaut of right-wing extremism” that impacts immigration policy and other issues.

Byron Miller, an attorney and Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who served as a justice of the peace and on numerous community boards, said he’s determined to bring better treatment of veterans and the elderly, and he’s also an advocate for early childhood education.

Although the district continues to have problems with infrastructure and social justice, Byron Miller said “it’s getting better” and will continue doing so “if we work together.” He added: “I want to represent everyone, equally.”

Golando in HD116 and Miller in HD120 were endorsed by the Express-News in their primaries. I don’t know much about any of these people, so it’s good to get at least a few tidbits.

It’s worth noting that in 2012, there were eight Democrats elected to the Lege from Bexar County, out of ten total districts. Here’s what the delegation looked like then, and what happened to them since:

HD116 – Trey Martinez-Fischer. He ran in the special election for SD26 after Leticia Van de Putte stepped down to run for Mayor but lost in a runoff to Jose Menendez. This year, he chose to go for a rematch in SD26, thus leaving his seat open.

HD117 – Philip Cortez reclaimed a seat that had been held by David Leibowitz from 2004 through 2010 before losing it in the 2010 wipeout. Cortez then lost it in 2014, and is trying to win it back this year.

HS118 – Joe Farias. Elected in 2006 to succeed Carlos Uresti after his successful primary race against then-Sen. Frank Madla, Farias announced his retirement at the end of the last session. He vacated his seat shortly thereafter, and the remainder of his term was won in a special election runoff by a Republican. Two Democrats, both of whom vied for his seat in the special election, are fighting each other in the primary for the chance to win it back in November: Gabe (son of Joe) Farias, and Tomas (brother of Carlos) Uresti; the latter was the loser in the special election runoff.

HD119 – Roland Gutierrez is now the senior member of the delegation. He was elected in 2008 in an unopposed primary to succeed Robert Puente, who was one of the last Craddick Dems still in the Lege.

HD120 – As noted above, Ruth Jones McClendon has retired, and resigned her seat. A special election to fill the remainder of her term will be held in May.

HD123 – Mike Villarreal. He stepped down after winning re-election in 2014 so he could run for Mayor of San Antonio. Diego Bernal won that seat in a January special election.

HD124 – Jose Menendez was the winner for SD26 last year, which then created a vacancy for his seat. Ina Minjarez won that in an April runoff.

HD125 – Justin Rodriguez is now the second longest-serving Democrat in Bexar County. He won the primary for that seat after Joaquin Castro moved up to Congress.

Whew. Lots of changes, with more to come. Good luck sorting it all out, Bexar County.

Lujan wins HD118 special election runoff

I know everyone is focused on the primaries now, but there was an actual election this past week.

Winning in a district long held by Democrats, Republican John Lujan outpolled Tomás Uresti in Tuesday’s special runoff in Texas House District 118.

Filling a seat vacated last year by former state Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, the GOP candidate will serve out the remainder of Farias’ unexpired term, through the end of the year.

Another election is set for March 1 to fill the seat for a two-year term starting in 2017. Lujan and Uresti are seeking their parties’ nominations in that race, and each has a primary opponent, so the winner won’t be decided until Nov. 8.

“I am so thankful to you,” a jubilant Lujan told about 100 supporters at Don Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant on the South Side.

Lujan, a retired firefighter who works for a tech firm, drew support from firefighters as well as from state and local GOP leaders in his matchup with Uresti. The Democrat was backed by a family network that includes two brothers in elected office — state Sen. Carlos Uresti and Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti.

You can see the results here and a pre-runoff story here. Republicans are predictably thrilled while Democrats are not, but let’s maintain some perspective here. This election was to fill Rep. Farias’ unexpired term, which ends on December 31, so winning this race gets you nothing except a boost in seniority if you also win in November. And that’s where I would note that while there were about 3600 votes cast for this race, there were over 40,000 votes cast in this district in 2012, and the average margin by which Democrats won it was about 5000 votes. Point being, conditions will be a little different than they are now in January. It’s embarrassing to boot a ground ball, but the most likely result here is that John Lujan will be the 2016 version of Dan Barrett, who captured a longtime Republican seat in Tarrant County in a low-turnout special election runoff in December of 2007, then lost it the following November in a normal-turnout race. Go ahead and get your gripes out, and then let’s move on. The Trib and Newsdesk have more.

Initial day-after-election thoughts

– We now have two cycles’ worth of data to suggest that having more good candidates in a Council race does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. Following in the footsteps of At Large #3 in 2013, a handful of Democratic candidates in At Large #1 split the vote with sufficient closeness to keep them all out of the runoff. The votes were there, they just went too many places. Lane Lewis + Tom McCasland = candidate in the runoff, pretty close to Mike Knox in total. Lane Lewis + Tom McCasland + Jenifer Pool = leading candidate going into the runoff. I have no idea what, if anything, there is to be done about this. There is no secret cabal that meets in a back room to decide who does and doesn’t get to file for a race, and we wouldn’t want there to be one if there were. I’ll just put this out there for candidates who are already looking at 2019, when the terms will be double and the stakes will be concurrently higher: If there’s already a candidate in a race – especially an open seat race – that would would be happy to vote for in a runoff scenario, then maybe supporting them in November rather than throwing your own hat in the ring is the better choice. I realize that framing the choice this way turns this decision-making process into a multi-level Prisoner’s Dilemma, but one can’t help but wonder What Might Have Been.

– On the plus side, the runoffs have given us some clarity:

Mayor – Turner
Controller – Brown

At Large 2 – Robinson
At Large 4 – Edwards

In AL 4, Amanda Edwards faces Roy Morales, who caught and passed Laurie Robinson by less than 900 votes by the end of the evening. As for ALs 1 and 5, I’m still deciding. I said “some” clarity, not complete clarity.

– Speaking of CM Christie, if he loses then there will be no open citywide offices in the next election, which is now 2019. That won’t stop challengers from running in some or all of the other AL races, but it would change the dynamics.

– In District Council runoffs, it’s Cisneros versus Cisneroz in District H, which is going to make that race hard to talk about. Roland Chavez finished 202 votes behind Jason Cisneroz, who got a boost from late-reporting precincts; he had been leading Chavez by less than 40 votes much of the evening. Jim Bigham finished all of 28 votes ahead of Manny Barrera for the right to face CM Mike Laster in December, while CM Richard Nguyen trailed challenger Steve Le but will get another shot in five weeks. I’m concerned about Laster and Nguyen, but at least their opponents pass my minimum standards test for a Council member. That would not have been the case if either third-place finisher (Barrera and Kendall Baker) had made the cut.

– Moving to HISD, if I had a vote it would go to Rhonda Skillern-Jones in II. I would not vote for Manuel Rodriguez in III, but I’d need to get to know Jose Leal better before I could recommend a vote for him.

– Your “Every Vote Matters” reminder for this cycle:


Aldine I.S.D., Trustee, Position 1
=======================================
Tony Diaz                  5,813 49.98%
Patricia "Pat" Bourgeois   5,818 50.02%

Yep, five votes. There were 3,742 undervotes in this race. I have since been forwarded a press release from the Diaz campaign noting that provisional and overseas ballots have not yet been counted, and hinting at a request for a recount down the line. I’d certainly be preparing to ask for one.

– Speaking of undervoting, one prediction I made came true. Here are the undervote rates in At Large Council elections:

AL1 = 28.56%
AL2 = 31.02%
AL3 = 33.09%
AL4 = 28.35%
AL5 = 32.34%

That’s a lot of no-voting. Contrast with the contested district Council races, where the (still high) undervote rates ranged from 15.97% to 22.49%. See here for a comparison to past years.

– Meanwhile, over in San Antonio:

In a stunning outcome, Republican John Lujan and Democrat Tomás Uresti were leading a six-candidate field for Texas House District 118 in nearly complete results late Tuesday.

In his second run for the office, Lujan, 53, showed strength in a district long held by Democrats, narrowly outpolling members of two prominent political families.

“I’m still on pins and needles. It’s not a done deal,” Lujan said with many votes still uncounted.

In his low-key campaign, the retired firefighter, who works in sales for a tech company, emphasized tech training to prepare students for the workforce. His backers included some firefighters and Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC.

Uresti, 55, a legal assistant, is vice chairman of the Harlandale Independent School District. With 35 years of community involvement as a coach, mentor and tutor, Uresti capitalized on his network of friends and family name — his brothers are state Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio and Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti.

“Democrats are going to pull together again to win this one,” Tomás Uresti said of the impending runoff.

A runoff between Lujan and Uresti would be Jan. 19.

Gabe Farias, son of outgoing Rep. Joe Farias, came in third, less than 300 votes behind Uresti. Three Democratic candidates combined for 53.3% of the vote, so I see no reason to panic. Even if Lujan winds up winning the runoff, he’d only have the seat through the end of next year – the real election, which may produce an entirely different set of candidates, is next year, and Democrats should have a clear advantage. Nonetheless, one should never take anything for granted.

– Waller County goes wet:

Waller County voters overwhelmingly passed a proposition Tuesday to legalize the sale of all alcoholic beverages, including mixed drinks.

Though Waller County is not dry everywhere to all types of alcohol, various parts of it have operated under distinct alcohol policies passed in the decades following Prohibition. The change will apply to unincorporated areas of the county.

“I’m ecstatic with the numbers,” said Waller County Judge Carbett “Trey” Duhon III, who had publicly supported the proposition. “… It’s a good result for the county and for all the citizens here.”

Supporters like Duhon have said the measure was needed to smooth over confusing, overlapping rules and to help attract restaurants to a county poised to benefit from Houston’s sprawling growth.

See here for more details. And drink ’em if you got ’em.

– I’m still processing the HERO referendum, and will be sure to dive into precinct data when I get it. (I have a very early subset of precinct data for just the Mayor’s race and the two propositions. I may do some preliminaries with it, but this data is incomplete so I may wait till the official canvass comes out.) One clear lesson to take from this campaign is that lying is a very effective tactic. It also helps when lies are reported uncritically, as if it was just another he said/she said situation. Blaming the media is the world’s oldest trick, and I’m not going to claim that lazy reporting was a deciding factor, but for a group of people that considers itself to be objective truth-seekers, they sure can be trusting and unprepared for for being lied to. As with item 1 above, I don’t know what if anything can be done about this.

– Bond elections and miscellaneous other things are noted elsewhere. Have I missed anything you wanted to see me discuss?

Endorsement watch: One Farias, two Farias

There’s one state race on the ballot this year, where there’s a special election in HD118 to succeed the retiring Rep. Joe Farias. The San Antonio Express News has endorsed Gabe Farias in that race.

Gabe Farias

Six candidates — three Democrats and three Republicans — are seeking to replace former Rep. Joe Farias, who stepped down earlier this year. We recommended that voters choose Gabe Farias, a Democrat, as their next state representative in the district that stretches from Somerset across Bexar County’s deep South Side and north to Selma.

Farias is the former representative’s son, but we urge voters to choose him because he brings a solid set of varied credentials to the post.

The 44-year-old Farias has been the president and CEO of the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce since 2012, and the position has given him insight into the needs of small businesses and private enterprise in general. He also ran his own business as a sports marketer.

Additionally, he has served on the staff of two City Council members and worked in the office of state Rep. Roland Gutierrez.

Farias supports efforts to improve and adequately fund public education, and expanding Medicaid to secure federal funding that the state has left on the table. The funds would help provide health care for poor Texans.

See here and here for the background. A full list of the candidates in the race is here; note that Democratic candidate Tomas Uresti is the brother of State Sen. Carlos Uresti, who as it happens was the representative in HD118 before Joe Farias. As the endorsement editorial notes, this race will almost surely go to a runoff, and pretty much everyone involved is also running in next March’s primary. This is a Democratic seat, but it’s close enough that something odd could happen in a special election, though if it did it would likely be reversed in the 2016 general, as happened in the other partisan direction in HD97 in Tarrant County in 2007-2008. The main thing is that if whoever wins the special then goes on to win next November, he will have a leg up in seniority over his fellow freshmen. As usual, I’ll keep an eye on it.

Rep. McClendon to step down

She’ll be missed.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, a San Antonio Democrat and 19-year veteran of the Texas House who tenaciously championed social justice reform, said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election.

McClendon was elected in 1996 to represent East Side voters in House District 120 and has emerged as a fixture in the Legislature as the dean of the Bexar County delegation.

However, McClendon’s health has been an ongoing concern. She was diagnosed in 2009 with stage 4 lung cancer and underwent surgery to remove water from her brain last year.

Her fragile physical state was emphasized during the latest legislative session when she relied on an electric scooter to navigate the Capitol and had noticeable trouble speaking.

In a statement, McClendon said she plans to stay in office until her term expires in December 2016 but that “it is time for someone else to take up the mantle.”

“Although I will not return to the Legislature in 2017,” she said, “I will still be engaged to ensure that the issues I have fought for will have a voice.”

[…]

McClendon has possibly become best known for her quest to have the state study wrongful prison convictions. She achieved the long-time goal during the last legislative session to create a commission to study exonerations, a triumph that helped earn her recognition from Texas Monthly as one of 2015’s best lawmakers.

Lawmakers said McClendon’s presence will be missed.

“Ruth is not only the dean of our delegation, she’s also our Capitol mother. Knowing that she’s not coming back is something that’s going to be hard to overcome,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat. “She’s always been the leader of our delegation, but now its time for her to make sure she’s taking care of her health and her family.”

All respect to Rep. McClendon, who has battled health issues for several years but went out on a high note this session with the passage of that exoneration commission bill. Go read the story at the end of that post linked above; if it doesn’t make you at least a little misty, you might want to adjust your meds. Her departure means that the ten-member Bexar County House delegation will have at least four members who were not there this past January – Rep. Diego Bernal, the successor to Mike Villarreal, who resigned to run for Mayor; Rep. Ina Minjarez, who won a special election for the seat vacated by now-Sen. Jose Rodriguez; and whoever follows the retiring Reps. McClendon and Joe Farias. If the Dems win back HD117 in this Presidential-turnout year, that will be half of the delegation turned over. Getting some new blood is always good, but losing such distinguished veterans is hard. I wish Rep. McClendon all the best as she enters the next phase of her life. The Trib has more.

Special election set in HD118

I wonder what the record for special elections in a county in a single year is.

Rep. Joe Farias

Gov. Greg Abbott has scheduled Nov. 3 as the date for a special election to fill former state Rep. Jose Farias’ seat in the Texas House.

Abbott signed a proclamation this week to have the latest San Antonio special election take place on the same date already scheduled for elections across the state.

[…]

Democrats vying to fill the spot include Farias’ son, West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Gabe Farias, and Tomas Uresti, the brother of state Sen. Carlos Uresti and Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti.

Two Republicans also are jumping into the race.

John Lujan, a 53-year-old retired firefighter who serves as the vice-president of an information-technology consulting business, ran for the House District 118 seat in 2006 but finished third in the Republican primary.

Robert Casias, a Somerset-based former Marine and member of the Army National Guard who lost to Joe Farias in 2012, is also running for the House seat as a Republican.

See here for the background. The filing deadline is September 2, so there may be a straggler or two jumping in while they can. This is just to fill out the remainder of Rep. Farias’ term; the winner of this race would still have to win his or her party’s primary in March and then the general election next November to actually serve in the Legislature. As such, it’s entirely possible that the winner of this race won’t even be on the ballot a year later. And of course, a runoff is a near certainty, so you folks in HD118, be prepared to do this again in December.

Farias resigns from HD118

Guess what, San Antonio? You get to have another special election!

Rep. Joe Farias

State Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday, officially ending a decade-long career as a state lawmaker and prompting the need for a special election to fill his House District 118 seat.

Farias had already announced he would not be seeking re-election after serving five terms in the Texas House, but had left open the question about whether he would complete his term, which has a year and a half remaining.

In a statement, Farias said Monday he made the decision not to fill the rest of his term after talking with his wife, Angie, and hopes to “enjoy more time with my family who’ve always been most important to me, but often not prioritized.”

“I am forever grateful to the constituents of District 118 tor giving me the privilege to serve them for the past 10 years. It has been an honor to work alongside my colleagues and help build a better Texas,” Farias wrote in a short letter to Abbott. “Along with my wife Angie I want to thank everyone for making my time in the legislature unforgettable.”

Abbott will now have to set a special election to fill the vacant House seat.

One presumes this special election will be in November, when at least some people would have been voting on constitutional amendments anyway. Several candidates are already lined up for the March primary, and one assumes that some if not all of them will compete in the special as well. All that would win is the right to finish out Rep. Farias’ term, so unless there’s a special session there won’t be much to do beyond constituent services and maybe a committee meeting or two. The special election winner would get the benefit of extra seniority if he or she goes on to win next year as well, and I suppose the extra campaign practice if needed. In the meantime, hope you enjoyed the break from campaigns while it lasted.

Family affair in HD118

Two families, actually.

Rep. Joe Farias

The race to replace retiring state Rep. Joe Farias in House District 118 is shaping up to be a contest featuring two well-known San Antonio political families: Farias vs. Uresti.

Farias’ son, Gabe, said he filed paperwork last week with the Texas Ethics Commission to appoint a campaign treasurer in what marks a first official step to laying the groundwork to succeed his father.

Gabe Farias said he’s still weighing his options but is “heavily, heavily leaning towards” a run and expects to formally announce within a month.

“It would have to be something very, very significant at this point for me to say I’m going to pull back,” said Gabe Farias, who serves as the president of the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Facing Farias in the Democratic primary will be someone from the Uresti family. But just which Uresti is still an open question.

Tomas Uresti, a Harlandale Independent School District board trustee and the brother of state Sen. Carlos Uresti, has been eyeing the Farias seat. So has his nephew, local attorney Albert Uresti IV, the son of the county tax assessor-collector.

That creates a Uresti family scenario that has yet to be resolved. A family huddle to hash out who will be the candidate is imminent, Tomas Uresti said.

“We’re going to have that resolved pretty quickly,” he said.

He added: “It is going to be myself or Albert running. A Uresti will definitely be running.”

It should be noted that Sen. Carlos Uresti represented HD118 before Rep. Farias; he won a special election there in May of 1997, and served until 2007, defeating the late Frank Madla in a 2006 primary to move to the upper chamber. I like new blood as much as the next guy, but you know what they say about showing up being a key component to success. There is another person considering a run for this seat – Anthony Alcoser, the director of development at Texas A&M University-San Antonio and a former Harlandale board president – so there may be a broader choice in March. Whoever emerges ought to be able to hold the seat for awhile – President Obama carried it 55-43 over Mitt Romney, and Wendy Davis outscored Greg Abbott 52-46. Whatever the case, may the best candidate win.

Three legislators announce their departure

The first to say goodbye is Rep. Sylvester Turner.

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Representative Sylvester Turner fought back tears today as the House gave him a bipartisan farewell as he concluded a 26-year legislative career to run for Houston mayor. “My time is up. My season is about here. And Mr. Speaker, in 24 hours, my desk will be clear,” Turner told the House, his eyes filled with tears.

Turner, who sometimes is called the “conscience of the House,” had once contemplated a career in the ministry before turning to law and politics. “God made me a very passionate person,” Turner said. “For twenty-six years, I have made this my ministry. And I’ve tried to hold true to it.”

Win or lose, Turner said he always tried to make a difference.

“I have given it my best. I have fought hard for the things I believe. I have done my best to keep them at the front. I have not won every battle. Every vote has not come my way, but I have given it all that I could,” Turner said.

At one point, he choked up and could not speak. Taking a white handkerchief from his pocket, he wiped his eyes.

“I love each and every one of you,” he told his colleagues. “Whether we have voted together or not is not important to me. Whether you are a D or an R is not important to me. The reality is we are Texans, but proud Texans.”

There has been some confusion in published reports about the exact nature of Rep. Turner’s plans. I emailed his campaign and have confirmed that while he is not running for re-election, he will not resign his seat until he wins the Houston Mayor’s race. (Yes, “wins” was the term used in our correspondence. What would you have expected?) I suppose that could leave some wiggle room in the event he loses, but I see no reason not to take him at his word. I expect there will be a spirited primary for HD139 next March.

Next, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the Chair of the House Public Education committee, announced his departure.

When the Texas Legislature tackles a long overdue overhaul of the state’s school finance system, it will have to do without the lawmaker who has shepherded its two chambers through complex education issues for the last two sessions.

State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, announced Monday he will not seek re-election after almost a decade in the Texas House.

“Let me urge you as you go forward to not think about the extremes on the right or the left but to think about good policy,” Aycock said in an emotional parting speech on the House floor, as he asked his colleagues to remember that the state’s 5.2 million school children depended on them.

Known for his plainspoken good humor — and his deft balancing of the diverse and often warring factions within the education community — the veterinarian, rancher and former school board member has served as the chamber’s Public Education Committee chairman since 2013.

“I don’t think there is anybody in this body who has garnered the respect that you have for your evenhanded way of dealing with things, authentic way of being, and willingness to do what’s right for the state of Texas,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, told Aycock on the floor Monday.

I’ll have more to say on this in a minute. Rep. Aycock had been rumored to be leaving. He’s been an honest broker and a good Public Ed chair. I don’t know who’s next in line – Rep. Alma Allen is the Vice Chair, but there’s no way that a Dem will get the gavel; looking at the other members, I’d guess Rep. Dan Huberty, with Rep. Marsha Farney, a former SBOE member, as a dark horse possibility – but he or she will have a tough act to follow.

And finally, Rep. Joe Farias also chose to hang them up.

After five sessions in the Texas House, Democratic state Rep. Joe Farias of San Antonio announced Monday that he will not seek re-election.

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Farias emerged as a key player this year in the fight against proposed cuts to the Hazlewood program, a popular college tuition initiative benefiting Texas veterans. Ahead of the debate on Hazlewood, Farias gave an emotional speech in which he asked his colleagues to not break a promise the state had made to its veterans.

“Why take from them when they’ve given so much?” Farias said in his speech about veterans and their families. The bill aimed at reining in Hazlewood’s costs died after Farias and other military veterans in the House rallied against the proposal.

Democratic state Rep. Armando Walle of Houston, Farias’ deskmate in the House, announced his colleague’s retirement.

“What you have sacrificed for this country, Joe, none of us can ever repay you,” Walle said after announcing Farias’ departure.

I met and interviewed Rep. Farias during his first campaign in 2006. A good guy and a good member, and his departure is a good opportunity for an up-and-comer.

What makes these latter two announcements interesting is that HDs 54 and 118 pass for what counts as swing districts in Texas. Here’s the relevant election data:

2012 Dist Romney Obama Romney% Obama% ======================================== 054 25,343 21,909 52.9% 45.7% 118 17,824 22,234 43.3% 55.2% 2014 Dist Abbott Davis Abbott% Davis% ======================================== 054 14,945 9,086 61.1% 37.1% 118 10,452 11,899 45.8% 52.1%

Basically, a Dem could win HD54 in 2016, but would have a very hard time holding it in 2018, barring a fundamental change in off-year turnout patterns. Similarly, a Republican could win HD118 in an off year, but probably not a Presidential year. Still, as these are two non-hopeless seats, I’d expect them to be very much on the radar next year. All of this is modulo any potential court-mandated changes to district lines. I don’t expect any changes to HD54, though one could draw it as a Dem-majority district (there was at least one proposed map in 2011 that did so), but HD118 could change, if only as a consequence of HD117 changing. I’ll be keeping an eye on them no matter what. In the meantime, my best wishes to all three of these Reps as they enter the next stage of their lives.

Making it harder for veterans to vote

Well done, Republicans.

Ann McGeehan, director of the Secretary of State’s elections division, said last week at a seminar in Austin that photo ID cards issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are not acceptable forms of military ID to vote, according to a recording provided by the Texas Democratic Party.

Jordy Keith, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, backpedaled Friday on that determination.

“It was an informal Q&A, and (McGeehan) was answering based on what was expressly called out in Senate Bill 14,” Keith said. “Right now our office has not issued a final determination on that.”

[…]

Janice McCoy, spokeswoman for state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, a major author of the bill, acknowledged that it does not include the VA card as an acceptable form of photo identification.

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, sponsored Fraser’s bill in the House.

Surprised by the controversy, Harless said on Friday that she understood the bill to encompass VA cards.

“It’s my opinion that any military identification card issued by the government was one of the acceptable forms of ID in the Texas voter ID legislation,” she said.

Remember, this was emergency legislation. You’d think for something that important, they might have a better idea of what exactly the effects of it would be. I suppose if they cared what those effects were, they might. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and State Rep. Joe Farias called attention to this, and good for them. Maybe the Secretary of State will rule that VA cards can be used as ID – surely they’re as good as concealed handgun licenses, right? – but the fact that this is even in doubt says a lot. PDiddie has more.

It’s way past time to regulate payday lenders

From the Observer:

As an industry, when you’ve got Tom Craddick, consumer groups, the Midland County District Attorney and Bible-quoting Baptists arrayed against you, most likely you’re facing a serious come-to-Jesus moment. Today, a House committee heard hours of impassioned testimony in favor of legislation that would curb Texas’ Wild West payday and auto-title lending business. As Melissa del Bosque has documented, payday lenders in Texas are virtually unregulated and frequently lock consumers into a cycle of debt. Craddick’s bill, along with three other identical bills, would close a loopholethat allows payday lenders to register as consumer credit organizations (CSOs) and escape regulation.

It was rather incredible to watch former Speaker Tom Craddick, who doesn’t exactly have a reputation as an advocate for the working poor, take the payday lenders to the woodshed. “No longer do I think the Legislature can stand back and watch these businesses take advantage of people in need,” Craddick said today. The impact of rates that can amount to 500 percent APR is “overwhelming – actually it’s awful,” he said.

Under the proposed legislation, payday and auto-title lenders could no longer operate as consumer credit organizations, but instead would be subject to the same laws and regulations as other lenders. A cap of 135 percent – still far above the 36 percent limit imposed by many states – would be imposed on the short-term loans offered by payday lenders.

Craddick’s bill is HB410, and it has a bipartisan plethora of co-authors. Other bills on the subject are HB 656 (Farias), HB 661 (Rodriguez), HB 1323 (Johnson), HB 2594 (Truitt), and HB 2592 (Truitt).

Among the consumer advocates and faith leaders, consensus seemed to be that the best approach would be imposing rate caps, closing the CSO loophole and imposing existing law on the lenders. That’s Craddick’s approach. However, the payday lender industry is basically telling legislators that they will go out of business if that happens and desperate consumers will have nowhere to go for easy credit.

The Craddick approach would “dramatically change the business model as we know it in a detrimental way,” said Rob Norcross, a lobbyist for the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, an industry group.

Asked today if they could survive with ‘just’ 135 percent APR, Norcross said, “The answer is no. … Those rates aren’t sustainable.”

Cry me a river, dude. If your business isn’t sustainable at that APR level, you don’t have a viable business model and deserve to be made extinct. If that’s what happens, it’s a feature, not a bug.

Basically, payday lenders need to be treated like any other loan-making financial institution. As the group Texas Faith for Fair Lending notes, the problem is that’s not how they operate now.

payday and auto title lenders do not operate as lenders governed by the Texas Finance code as one might expect. Instead, they have found a loophole in a law called the Credit Services Organizations (CSO) Act that sets no limits on rates and fees they charge borrowers.

The CSO statute was enacted in 1997 and is designed to govern how credit repair services can help those repair bad credit. In this statute CSOs are given is the authority to “obtain an extension of consumer credit for a consumer.” The intent is clearly to enable CSOs to help Texans with bad credit build up a positive lending history in order to increase credit scores. Instead, over 98% of registered CSOs in this state are payday and auto title lenders that do anything but help people repair credit.

So, in practice, payday and auto title lenders are merely brokers, or arrangers of credit. They partner with banks or other large lenders who charge an interest rate of below the 10% APR constitutional limit, while the payday lender, registered as a CSO, charges an exorbitant fee. This diagram better illustrates the relationship –

The true lender, the financial institution, charges a small interest rate and makes a little money from the short loan. The CSO charges a high fee to arrange, collect and guarantee the loan. This is typically around $20 per $100 borrowed but there is no legal limit on these fees. The borrower never interacts with the actual lender.

They add nothing of value to the equation but reap huge profits by virtue of the loophole they squeeze through. That loophole needs to be closed. You can see videos of the TFFL press conference here, and more about TFFL, which is a Texas Impact project, here. If you’re a churchgoer, the odds are good that your denomination is involved in this effort. Please check it out and make your voice heard as well.

Dems seek repeal of new DPS rules

We didn’t have any voter ID action yesterday, but we did have this.

Some Democratic lawmakers joined by Texas residents who have had trouble getting drivers’ licenses under new Department of Public Safety rules pushed Monday for legislation that would undo a policy they say harms U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, of San Antonio, said the DPS overstepped its authority by creating new identification rules last fall for drivers’ license applicants without getting approval from the Legislature.

“It’s far-reaching, it’s completely uncalled for and it’s completely unnecessary,” she said.

McClendon filed a bill that went before a House committee on Monday to stop the policy. Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini, of Laredo, filed an identical proposal in the Senate.

McClendon’s bill is HB1278; Zaffirini’s is SB2261.

Under the new DPS rules, people seeking drivers’ licenses who aren’t U.S. citizens must show they are in the country legally and that their immigration documents don’t expire within six months. DPS also changed the look of the licenses given to legal residents and added the designation “temporary visitor” on the card.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry supports the DPS rules, which took effect Oct. 1. His spokeswoman, Katherine Cesinger, said the rule change “ensures public safety and national security.” She said the identification requirement is not unreasonable and shows that applicants are who they say they are.

The Public Safety Commission, which oversees DPS, said it wanted the change to enhance security and deter fraud. DPS officials say the change brings Texas closer to compliance with the impending federal REAL ID Act launched after the September 2001 terrorist attacks and governing drivers’ license security.

The REAL ID act is unpopular with many states, and McClendon said it amounts to an unfunded mandate.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, said some elderly Texans do not have birth certificates. He specifically mentioned a 98-year-old woman in Fort Worth, whose original certificate burned in a courthouse fire years ago. Other U.S. citizens who were delivered by midwives don’t have birth certificates, he said.

We’ve already heard about Bessie Jenkins Foster. State Rep. Joe Farias said at the hearing that he has no birth certificate, because he was born at home. This is a big deal, because it’s not so easy to get a birth certificate if you don’t already have one. And that has implications for – you guessed it – voter ID.

To get a Texas photo ID for the first time, you have to provide a birth certificate. A certified copy will cost you 22 smackeroos (Fraser’s bill does not waive that fee), if you can manage to get one at all.

I asked DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange if there was any way to get a Texas photo ID without a birth certificate. She answered, “We gotta know who you are.”

Getting a birth certificate so you can get a photo ID is a Catch 22 at the Texas Department of State Health Services. To get a copy of your birth certificate, you need to submit a copy of your photo ID. Technically, if you don’t have an ID card, the DSHS Web site says you can submit an immediate family member’s photo ID, or copies of two documents bearing your name, one with a signature. But the application http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/vs/reqproc/forms/vs142.3.pdf for a birth certificate reads, in bold caps, “APPLICATIONS WITHOUT PHOTO ID WILL NOT BE PROCESSED.”

Summary: Getting a photo ID in Texas requires a birth certificate … which requires a photo ID … which requires a birth certificate … which requires a photo ID … and if you manage to stumble across the information about the technicality allowing alternative documentation, it’ll still take DSHS 6 – 8 weeks to process your request if you pay with a check or money order … by which time it may be too late to vote.

Pretty nifty little trick, isn’t it? For a party that claims to hate big government, they sure do seem to like big bureaucracy. As the story notes, there are two lawsuits pending over the new DPS rules. I don’t expect these bills to pass, so in the end I presume it will be the courts that settle this.