Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Jonathan Stickland

Your daily Bonnen-MQS update

I’m just sittin’ here watching the wheels go round and round…

Found on the Twitters

After a week of denying that he asked an arch-conservative to target 10 fellow Republicans in the next primary election, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen challenged Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan to release a secretly-recorded audio of their meeting.

But three House members who have reportedly listened to the recording said the speaker is not being truthful about the alleged list of GOP targets, rocking the Texas Republican party as it prepares for its most challenging election cycle in decades.

“It’s pretty shocking. I’ll be honest with you. It is,” said Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. “There’s just frankly vomiting of the mouth, if you will, by these individuals and you can’t help but just kinda cringe by some of the stuff I heard … It’s beneath the office, for sure.”

Stickland, a darling of Empower Texans who is not running for re-election, said Bonnen offered media credentials to Sullivan during their June 12 conversation. Stickland said he heard on the audio that Bonnen then sweetened the deal by offering to deny media credentials to political reporter Scott Braddock of the Quorum Report. The credentials give journalists access to the floor of the Texas House when the Legislature is in session, and provide better access to lawmakers for interviews and follow-up questions.

[…]

Two other Republican lawmakers who have heard the audio have offered fewer details about what they heard, although Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, confirmed the audio reveals that Burrows gave Sullivan the names of members who could be challenged in their primary elections without repercussion.

Clardy, who is on the list, said there are things on the recording that will be hurtful to some members, but each representative will have to determine for themselves “what it means and how to take it and whether they will be able to move past it.”

For his part, Clardy said he has already moved past it and wants to talk to Bonnen and Burrows, who he has yet to speak with to since news of the meeting broke last week.

See here, here, and here for the background. Let’s hear from Scott Braddock about this:

Here’s Ross Ramsey:

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen isn’t cooked, yet — but the water is boiling.

The compact between a speaker and the members of the Texas House who elect him goes like this: Protect the members from the outside world (and from fratricidal colleagues), and in return, you get the title, the fancy corner office, the apartment in the state Capitol, and the gavel and the dais when the Legislature is in session.

Protection for power. It’s not a complicated transaction.

And the threat to that compact is why Bonnen is facing a crisis seven months after winning the job. Accused of selling out 10 of his fellow Republicans to a political operative, he’s now pitting his word with that activist threatening to make public a recording of their conversation.

[…]

As more members hear the recording — assuming they’re hearing a clean and complete rendition — they’ll compare that to what Bonnen has been telling them for the last week. If the stories don’t match, the speaker — this is the gentlest way of putting it — will have to explain the discrepancies.

In a trust-based relationship between a leader and the followers who elected him, that’s perilous.

A speaker who doesn’t have the trust of his own members isn’t in a secure spot. And one caught working directly against those members is cooked.

Plus two more Trib stories. Never let it be said that MQS doesn’t know how to get his name in the papers.

It is certainly possible that Bonnen, normally a pretty astute fellow, was dumb enough to talk to MQS and say these things he supposedly said. I don’t know why he’d do that, I don’t see what was in it for him, but maybe he was just saying the quiet parts out loud and forgot that he was dealing with a fundamentally dishonest broker. That’s the real key here, that no one with any integrity of their own should ever believe a word MQS says. If he’s got the goods on Bonnen, then put that recording out on the Internet for all of us to hear. I don’t care one way or the other what happens to Bonnen, but to me this is analogous to all of those “sting” tapes that grifters like James O’Keefe have put out over the years, supposedly showing people they don’t like saying or doing horrible things. Except that at a closer look, the whole thing falls apart, as the tape in question was heavily and dishonestly edited to make the sting subject look bad. I wouldn’t put that past MQS at all, but again, the answer here is simple. He says he’s got the goods. Let the rest of us hear it for ourselves. If MQS himself doesn’t also want that, we should wonder why.

See ya, Stickland

Good riddance.

Former legislator

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a firebrand conservative Republican from Bedford and one of the most vocal members of the Texas House, announced Monday he will not run for reelection in 2020.

Stickland, first elected to represent House District 92 in 2012, broke the news to supporters in an email, saying he had “determined it is not in the Lord’s will for me to seek re-election.”

“Instead,” he wrote, “I intend to dedicate more time to my family, my church, and my business.”

While in office, Stickland established a reputation as one of the House’s more pugnacious members, often taking to the chamber’s back microphone to debate — and sometimes kill — pieces of legislation. Stickland typically argued he was pushing back against bills in the name of liberty and freedom, a nod to the hardline conservative values he aligned himself with.

[…]

Although Stickland was at times effective with his procedural maneuvers and tactics in the House, he didn’t pass his first bill until this year.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment — seven years,” he told colleagues as the House passed his measure to ban red light cameras in the state. “The people of Texas have been waiting a longer time than I have.”

While Stickland prided himself on his lone wolf image, the lawmaker was deeply unpopular with a faction of members and constituents who disagreed with his approach to politics. In the 2018 general elections, Stickland, running for a fourth term, almost lost to a little-known Democratic challenger.

Stickland was an utter waste of space. His political beliefs ranged from risible to reprehensible. From anti-vaxxing to rape apologia, you could always count on Stickland to be loudly and aggressively on the wrong side of just about any issue. The next Legislature is already in better shape for Stickland’s absence. His departure also opens up a swing district, though I’m honestly not sure that it will be easier for a Dem to win without Stickland on the ballot. Be that as it may, let me just say good-bye to someone who truly deserves to hear that word. May I never have to hear his name again. The DMN has more.

There’s always time for an attack on Planned Parenthood

This one comes with an attack on local control, so it’s a twofer.

Right there with them

Texas and its local governments would no longer be able to partner with abortion providers or their affiliates — even for services like sexual health education and pregnancy prevention initiatives — under a bill the Texas House passed in a preliminary vote late Friday after hours of emotional debate.

Senate Bill 22, which critics call the biggest threat to Planned Parenthood this legislative session, would forbid a government entity from transferring money to an abortion provider, even for services not related to the procedure. It would also bar a transfer of goods or services and any transactions that offers the provider “something of value derived from state or local tax revenue.” Abortion rights advocates fear that the bill could even prohibit privately funded programs held on government property, like pop-up sexual health education booths at community colleges.

The controversial bill dominated the lower chamber’s agenda Friday for more than seven hours and tentatively passed in an 81 to 65 vote.

“This is a taxpayer protection bill,” said Rep. Candy Noble, R-Allen. “Taxpayers who oppose abortion should not have to see their tax dollars subsidizing the abortion industry.”

The bill needs one more vote in the lower chamber before it heads back to the Republican-controlled Senate. State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, added an amendment that clarifies the bill would not restrict a city or county from banning abortions. If the upper chamber agrees with that change, the bill will then head to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

The bill would also apply to an affiliate of an abortion provider, so no Planned Parenthood clinic could partner with a local government — even clinics that don’t provide abortions. That would include programs like one in Dallas County where Planned Parenthood staffers have provided sexual health education, including information on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, at juvenile detention centers.

[…]

Planned Parenthood partners with Texas cities and counties to provide services like HIV testing, teen pregnancy prevention initiatives, and breast and cervical cancer screenings — along with assistance in public health crises. During the 2016 Zika outbreak, the Harris County Health Department provided mosquito repellent and prevention brochures to Planned Parenthood patients. After Hurricane Harvey, Houston city government offices distributed vouchers for no-cost care at local Planned Parenthood clinics.

Opponents of the bill say providers like Planned Parenthood are an integral part of the healthcare safety net for low-income residents in a state that has the highest rate of uninsured adults in the country. Furthermore, they say low-cost and free reproductive health services are especially critical given Texas’ high rate of teen pregnancy, maternal mortality, and sexually transmitted diseases. Cutting off birth control services, they argue, could even drive up abortion rates. And many bill opponents called the measure “an attack on local control.”

As the Texas legislature has rolled back funding for abortion providers, lawmakers have boosted funding for state-run programs like Healthy Texas Women, which provides free or low-cost family planning services. Bill supporters hope to divert women away from abortions clinics and their affiliates and instead direct them toward these state-run alternatives.

But abortion rights advocates argue that such programs are ineffective because they don’t reach enough people. Almost half of the approximately 5,400 Healthy Texas Women providers saw no patients in the 2017 budget year, according to the Texas Observer. If less women can access reproductive health care, some lawmakers unsuccessfully argued, abortion rates would ultimately rise.

So just to recap, this will have no effect on abortion, but it will make it harder to stop Zika outbreaks. How much more pro-life can you get?

The one possible piece of good news here is that according to Scott Braddock, the Stickland amendment may make SB22 vulnerable to a point of order. If that’s true, it’ll happen this morning when the bill comes up for third reading. Hope for the best. And remember, the only way to prevent shit like this from happening is to elect a Democratic majority in the Lege. Nothing will change until that happens. The Observer has more.

UPDATE: On the plus side, vote suppression bill SB9 is not on the House calendar today or tomorrow, so it will not get a House floor vote before the deadline. It could still get in via the back door of being tacked onto another bill, but it’s on life support now.

So long, red light cameras

Like ’em or not, they’re on their way out, barring a veto from Greg Abbott.

Going, going…

The Republican-led push to rid Texas intersections of red-light cameras moved one step closer to becoming law after the state Senate signed off on a measure with that aim Friday, sending the bill to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

House Bill 1631 cleared the chamber on a 23-8 vote after several back-and-forths among senators about studies that both support and challenge the efficacy of the devices when it comes to promoting safer streets. The Senate left in place a key provision to allow local governments to continue operating cameras until they finish out any contracts in effect as of May 7.

“Red-light cameras violate the right to due process guaranteed under Article 1 of the Texas Constitution by creating a presumption that the registered owner of the car committed a violation when in fact that may not have been the case,” said state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, who is sponsoring the legislation originally offered by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.

Many city officials and local law enforcement officials oppose the legislation, arguing that cameras reduce deadly accidents and bring in revenue for trauma care centers and local governments. Gesturing toward a binder with 25 studies that suggest the opposite, Hall fended off questions from fellow senators who asked about the potential loss of revenue, particularly the dollars that go to trauma care centers, from fines on drivers who run red lights.

I am officially retired from the business of arguing about red light cameras. I have come to the conclusion that the available data is just simply insufficient to answer the basic questions about their efficacy. You either believe they’re a common sense tool to discourage and penalize running red lights, or you believe they’re an unacceptable infringement on freedom. (You may also think that the contracts cities sign with camera providers are highly sketchy and will lead to cities becoming dependent on the revenue the cameras generate, with the accompanying incentive to mess with yellow light times to maintain the cash flow.) I’m sure I’d have some feelings about this if Houston still had its cameras, but this is the one incursion on local control this session that does not directly affect us. I guess I’m glad that unlike cable franchise fees, the Lege saw fit this time to allow cities that were affected some time to make adjustments.

We could have had an excise tax on e-cigarettes

But then Greg Abbott got involved.

At the urging of the nation’s biggest tobacco company, Gov. Greg Abbott launched a late-hour push to change Texas legislation creating a 10% state retail excise tax on e-cigarette and vapor smoking products.

That bill died in House action Thursday night due to a legislative maneuver, known as a point of order, offered by Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford. It has no realistic chance of revival because of legislative deadlines and the mandate that tax measures originate in the House, not the Senate.

Stickland said Friday his aides spotted the technical error and he pointed it out in the House out of concern about ladling taxes on e-cigarettes and vape products.

“A lot of people have used e-cigarettes to quit other bad habits,” Stickland said Friday. “It’s just a freedom issue for me. I think that taxes are theft.”

After the bill’s death, Dallas Democrat Nathan Johnson, the author of the Senate version of the bill, said in a text message: “I’m disappointed, to say the least. This bill would protect kids and save public costs. It had overwhelming support in the House.”

Critics said earlier that Abbott’s late move — targeting a bill touted as deterring youths from buying addictive e-cigs — would effectively ease taxation of products such as Juul pods that concentrate nicotine in not much liquid.

[…]

Abbott’s suggested changes would have scrapped a proposed first-in-the-nation retail tax predicted to generate about $20 million a year for public education. Instead, Texas would tax vape products at the wholesale level at five cents per milliliter of “consumable liquid solution.”

Four states — Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — tax vape products at five cents per milliliter, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, with New Jersey and West Virginia levying higher rates.

The Abbott-backed changes also would have put a $1 per ounce tax on every initial sale of heated tobacco products, which produce an inhalable aerosol primarily by heating, not burning, tobacco. The FDA authorized U.S. sales of the products, made by Philip Morris International, late last month. Corey Henry of Philip Morris International said in an email that the product will be commercialized by Altria in the U.S. through a licensing agreement.

Proceeds from the double-barreled tax were to help fund public schools.

Rob Crane, an Ohio State University physician who heads the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, said in an email that the resulting e-cig tax would have been so light, it would make “no difference” to children or adults considering purchases of such nicotine delivery products.

The first link in the story gives some background on the bill, as it was and what it was intended for. I confess, I wasn’t aware of any of this before I read the story, so I don’t have much to add beyond what you can read at the two links. Mostly, this is a reminder of why it’s hard to pass bills in the Lege. Time is against you, there are many veto points, and the closer you get to the end of the session the easier it is kill things. All you can do is note how far you got this time, and vow to try again in two years.

There’s only one solution to the anti-vax crisis

They have to be beaten at the ballot box. There’s no other way.

On the South steps of the Texas Capitol, state Rep. Briscoe Cain prayed that the children standing beside him would not be mocked for their parents’ decision not to vaccinate them.

“We ask that you strengthen these children … we ask that you shield them,” said Cain, R-Deer Park. “May government leaders never forget that parents know what is best for their children.”

On Thursday, more than 300 anti-vaccination advocates and their children rallied with Texans for Vaccine Choice to support bills filed by a handful of state lawmakers that would require doctors to provide families with both the “benefits and risks of immunization,” and make it easier to opt out.

“I walk these halls and I see … the fun they are poking at our children and our families, and it angers me,” said the group’s president, Jackie Schlegel, who said her daughter is disabled due to complications from a vaccine. “The time is now to stand up, to be here for your families, to be here for your children, the ones who do not have a voice.”

Statewide data shows a steady rise in children whose parents have claimed conscientious exemptions from vaccine requirements. In 2018, 76,665 individuals requested affidavits for the exemption, an 18.8-percent increase over 2017, and a 63.8-percent increase since 2014, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

As the movement grows, Texas has seen a series of outbreaks of infectious diseases that were thought to have been virtually eliminated in the U.S.

You can see what we’re up against. Measles are back, someone was walking around the Capitol with whooping cough, idiots are deliberately exposing their own children to chicken pox, it goes on and on. Reason, civic duty, compassion for the immunocompromised, nothing moves these people. The one thing we can do is throw the legislators who coddle them out of office. Diminish their power, and the rest takes care of itself. So, just as a reminder:

Jonathan Stickland, HD92, won in 2018 by a 49.8% to 47.4% margin, in a district where Beto O’Rourke got 48.3% of the vote.

Matt Krause, HD93, won in 2018 by a 53.9% to 46.1% margin, in a district where Beto O’Rourke got 48.2% of the vote.

Bill Zedler, HD96, won in 2018 by a 50.8% to 47.2% margin, in a district where Beto O’Rourke got 49.5% of the vote.

I wish I could make a case for Briscoe Cain’s vulnerability, but alas, he’s in one of the two most Republican districts in Harris County. Still, take those three out and you’ve really weakened the anti-vax core. You want to see fewer kids get easily preventable diseases in Texas? There’s your starting point.

House approves budget, and other news

Always a major milestone.

In Dennis Bonnen’s first major test as speaker of the Texas House, the chamber he oversees resoundingly passed a $251 billion budget Wednesday after a long but largely civil debate — a departure from the dramatics that have typically defined such an affair.

Though lawmakers proposed more than 300 amendments to the spending plan, Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and his chief budget writer, state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, finished the night with their budget plan largely intact. After 11 hours of relatively cordial discussion, lawmakers agreed to withdraw the vast majority of their amendments or move them to a wish list portion of the budget, where they are highly unlikely to become law.

The budget passed unanimously on the final vote. The legislation, House Bill 1, now heads to the Senate, whose Finance Committee was set to discuss its budget plan Thursday.

“I’m proud of where we are in the bill that we are sending to the Senate,” Zerwas said at the end of the marathon debate. “Each and every one of you should be incredibly proud of the work that you’ve put in here.”

The two-year spending plan’s highlight — a $9 billion boost in state funding for the public education portion of the budget — remained unchanged. Of that, $6 billion would go to school districts, and the remaining $3 billion would pay for property tax relief, contingent on lawmakers passing a school finance reform package.

The budget plan would spend $2 billion from the state’s savings account, commonly known as the rainy day fund, which holds more than $11 billion.

“I’m not here to compare it to previous sessions,” Bonnen told reporters after the House budget vote. “But I’m here to tell you we had a great tone and tenor tonight, and I’m very proud of the business that we did.”

[…]

So while Bonnen’s first budget night as speaker was hardly free of controversy — an argument over the effectiveness of the state’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program, for example, derailed movement on amendments for nearly an hour — the occasional spats paled in comparison with those of years past. There were no discussions at the back microphone of lawmakers’ sexual histories, as happened in 2015, and no one had to physically restrain House members to prevent a fistfight over the fate of a feral hog abatement program, as happened in 2017.

Still, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, continued his long-running campaign against the feral hog program. And though the exchange ranked among the evening’s rowdiest, it was more than tame by last session’s standards.

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, again opposed Stickland’s amendment to defund the program, which reimburses local initiatives to eradicate wild hogs. Stickland responded, “Members, although I respect the thoughtful words of Rep. Springer … let’s end this program right here, right now.”

Stickland’s amendment failed, with just four votes in favor.

See here for more on last session’s House budget debate. One should never miss an opportunity to illustrate Jonathan Stickland’s failures. The House also approved a supplementary budget for the previous biennium, to cover expenditures that were not previously appropriated, such as the traditional underestimating of Medicaid’s costs and all of the Harvey recovery funding.

Speaking of revenues:

House Republicans muscled a heavily altered version of their property tax reform bill through a committee early Thursday, notching a single Democratic vote and swiftly shooting down attempts to further modify the draft.

A top priority for state leaders, House Bill 2 would require cities, counties and other taxing units to receive voter approval before levying 2.5 percent more property tax revenue than the previous year. A vote was expected to come Wednesday morning on a new draft of the legislation, which contains changes likely to appease small and special taxing units but leave big municipal leaders staunchly opposed.

But the hearing on the new version was postponed until past midnight. The 16-hour delay gave an unusual cluster of critics time to trumpet their concerns with the measure — and then for top House leaders to respond in an informal late-night news conference.

“Sometimes when everyone’s a little bit upset with you, maybe you have a good balance — that’s probably a good sign,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dustin Burrows, the author of the legislation and a Lubbock Republican. “We worked really hard; we talked to a lot of different constituencies” and a lot of members. “I think you’ll see in the committee substitute, the work product and a lot of collaboration.”

As amended, HB 2 now exempts community colleges, emergency service districts and hospital districts from abiding by the 2.5 percent election trigger. Another provision lets certain districts, including cities and counties, bank unused revenue growth, so long as they average below 2.5 percent over five years. And new “revenue enrichment” language could cushion some taxing units by letting them raise $250,000 in new property taxes a year, even if it exceeded the growth rate. The threshold, set at $250,000 for 2020, would be adjusted by the state comptroller annually, based on inflation.

[…]

Currently, voters can petition for an election if property tax revenue growth exceeds 8 percent, a rate set during a period of high inflation in the 1980s. State leaders have touted the lower chamber’s proposal and a Senate companion as an overdue correction and as a needed check on spiraling property tax bills. But critics say the reform efforts would not reduce tax bills, just slow the rate at which they grow — and, in the process, hamper local officials’ ability to provide public services for growing populations.

As you know, I oppose revenue caps, no matter how well intentioned. The reason the Lege ties itself into knots every two years in a vain attempt to limit property tax growth is that a taxing system that so heavily relies on property taxes fundamentally relies on a system that is divorced from people’s ability to afford their taxes. As I muse every two years, if only there were some system of taxation that was proportional to how much money people made in a given year, that would solve so many of these problems. Too bad no such system exists anywhere in the world.

Of course, another way to limit property tax growth for homeowners would be to ensure that everyone is paying their fair share of property taxes.

As state leaders promote their property tax reform package as needed relief for everyday Texans, some Democrats and county appraisers suggest a provision in the tax code has stacked the system in favor of corporations that can appeal their valuations with a combativeness most homeowners can’t muster.

At issue: a 1997 amendment, drafted by a prominent tax attorney, that critics say has allowed business and industry to lower their property tax burden at the expense of other taxpayers. The provision offers all Texans a way to fight their appraisals by arguing they were treated unfairly compared to other properties. But critics say large property owners have capitalized on it to drive down their costs, while residences and small businesses can’t afford to do the same.

“If you have a whole category of property that is nonresidential systematically paying less, well who do you think is paying more?” said Bexar County chief appraiser Michael Amezquita.

Amezquita is one of several officials who say their districts have been inundated by appeals and lawsuits from commercial owners trying to lower their appraisals, which determine what taxes are owed on a property. Supporters of the “equity” provision say it’s a critical tool for all property owners, and that commercial properties aren’t afforded the tax exemptions many home and agricultural land owners receive. Critics counter only well-funded property owners can afford to sue — and when they do, there’s often little an appraisal district can do to fight back.

“The deck is stacked against us,” said Amezquita, who has been sued by a J.W. Marriott resort seeking to have its taxable value reduced. A spokeswoman for the hotel declined comment.

I’ve written about this before. This issue of equity appeals was a cornerstone of Mike Collier’s campaign for Lt. Governor. We’d be having a much broader conversation about fairness and equity in taxation if he had won that race, but he didn’t and so we aren’t. Better luck next time, I guess.

Anyway. The Senate still has to approve its budget, and school finance reform remains a work in progress. There’s a decent amount of harmony now, but plenty of opportunities for tension, drama, and good old fashioned nastiness remain. Which is as it should be.

Precinct analysis: 2018 State House

Beto O’Rourke won 76 State House districts. Out of 150. Which is a majority.

Let me say that again so it can fully sink in.

BETO O’ROURKE WON 76 STATE HOUSE DISTRICTS.

Remember that after the 2016 election, Democrats held 55 State House Districts. They picked up 12 seats last year, thanks in large part to the surge that Beto brought out. But there were nine other districts that Beto carried where the Dem candidate fell short. Let’s start our review of the State Rep districts by looking at those nine.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD26   47.6%   50.5%   43.4%   47.8%   48.9%   48.5%   44.9%
HD64   44.5%   49.8%   43.9%   46.8%   47.4%   46.5%   44.0%
HD66   49.7%   52.5%   44.1%   49.2%   50.4%   48.8%   45.7%
HD67   48.8%   52.3%   44.5%   49.2%   50.4%   48.8%   45.7%
HD108  49.9%   57.2%   46.0%   52.7%   54.2%   51.9%   46.5%
HD112  49.0%   54.4%   47.5%   51.4%   52.5%   51.7%   48.7%
HD121  44.7%   49.7%   42.0%   46.9%   48.4%   47.7%   42.4%
HD134  46.8%   60.3%   50.4%   57.9%   59.1%   57.5%   48.6%
HD138  49.9%   52.7%   46.6%   50.6%   51.5%   51.1%   47.5%

Some heartbreakingly close losses, some races where the Republican winner probably never felt imperiled, and some in between. I don’t expect HD121 (Joe Straus’ former district) to be in play next year, but the shift in HD134 is so dramatic it’s hard to see it as anything but a Democratic district that just needs a good Dem to show up and take it. 2012 candidate Ann Johnson has declared her entry into the race (I am aware of one other person who was looking at it, though I do not know what the status of that person’s intent is now), so we have that taken care of. I won’t be surprised to see other candidates start to pop up for the other districts.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD45   51.6%   55.1%   47.9%   51.8%   52.6%   52.2%   49.3%
HD47   52.4%   54.9%   46.7%   51.7%   52.9%   51.6%   48.4%
HD52   51.7%   55.7%   48.0%   52.0%   53.3%   52.2%   49.3%
HD65   51.2%   54.1%   46.6%   50.8%   51.8%   50.6%   47.6%
HD102  52.9%   58.5%   50.1%   55.5%   56.7%   55.1%   51.3%
HD105  54.7%   58.7%   52.5%   55.5%   56.8%   56.1%   53.7%
HD113  53.5%   55.5%   49.4%   53.1%   53.9%   53.4%   51.4%
HD114  55.6%   57.1%   47.2%   54.1%   55.5%   53.4%   48.4%
HD115  56.8%   58.2%   49.9%   54.8%   56.1%   55.5%   51.2%
HD132  49.3%   51.4%   46.3%   49.5%   50.2%   50.0%   47.6%
HD135  50.8%   52.9%   47.3%   50.8%   51.6%   51.5%   48.8%
HD136  53.4%   58.1%   49.9%   54.2%   55.5%   54.2%   51.3%

These are the 12 seats that Dems flipped. I’m sure Republicans will focus on taking them back, but some will be easier than others. Honestly, barring anything unexpected, I’d make these all lean Dem at worst in 2020. Demography and the Trump factor were big factors in putting these seats in play, and that will be the case next year as well.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD14   43.6%   48.4%   40.9%   45.3%   45.0%   44.5%   41.1%
HD23   41.4%   44.0%   39.6%   42.7%   43.5%   43.3%   41.1%
HD28   45.8%   48.1%   41.8%   45.7%   46.5%   46.4%   43.2%
HD29      NA   47.0%   41.2%   44.9%   45.7%   45.9%   42.9%
HD32      NA   47.0%   38.9%   44.9%   45.2%   45.9%   42.2%
HD43   38.9%   44.1%   37.4%   43.4%   43.3%   43.9%   42.3%
HD54   46.2%   49.0%   43.8%   46.5%   47.0%   46.8%   45.0%
HD84   39.8%   43.1%   37.4%   41.5%   41.2%   39.8%   37.7%
HD85   43.5%   44.7%   39.8%   43.2%   44.1%   44.1%   41.6%
HD89   40.5%   43.5%   37.1%   41.1%   41.7%   40.5%   38.0%
HD92   47.4%   48.3%   41.9%   45.6%   46.5%   45.8%   43.1%
HD93   46.1%   48.2%   42.1%   45.6%   46.3%   45.5%   42.9%
HD94   43.9%   47.9%   41.1%   44.9%   46.0%   45.1%   42.2%
HD96   47.2%   49.5%   43.9%   47.6%   48.1%   47.6%   45.3%
HD97   44.9%   48.6%   41.3%   45.7%   46.5%   45.4%   42.4%
HD106  41.7%   44.2%   37.1%   41.3%   42.0%   41.0%   38.1%
HD122  38.1%   43.4%   36.1%   40.5%   41.9%   41.2%   36.7%
HD126  45.2%   47.8%   42.5%   46.1%   46.7%   46.3%   43.5%
HD129  41.8%   45.2%   39.1%   43.4%   44.3%   44.2%   40.0%
HD133  41.9%   45.0%   36.6%   43.4%   44.2%   42.8%   36.3%

Here are the generally competitive districts, where Dems can look to make further inroads into the Republican majority. Well, mostly – HD23 in Galveston, formerly held by Craig Eiland, and HD43 in South Texas, held by Rep. JM Lozano, are going in the wrong direction. I wouldn’t say that Dems should give up on them, but they should not be a top priority. There are much better opportunities available.

To say the least, HD14 in Brazos County is a big surprise. Hillary Clinton got 38.1% of the vote there in 2016, but Beto came within 1100 votes of carrying it. It needs to be on the board. Rep. Todd Hunter in HD32 hasn’t had an opponent since he flipped the seat in 2010. That needs to change. HD54 is Jimmy Don Aycock’s former district, won by Rep. Brad Buckley last year. It’s been at least a light shade of purple all decade, but it’s non-traditional turf for Dems, who never felt much need to go after Aycock anyway. It’s split between Bell and Lampasas counties, and will need a big win in Bell to overcome the strong R lean of Lampasas. HD84 in Lubbock isn’t really a swing district, but Beto improved enough on Hillary’s performance there (34.8% in 2016) to put it on the horizon. The Dem who won the primary in HD29 wound up dropping out; we obviously can’t have that happen again. All of the HDs in the 90s are in Tarrant County, and they include some of the biggest anti-vaxxers in the House – Stickland (HD92), Krause (HD93), and Zedler (HD96). You want to strike a blow against measles in Texas, work for a strong Democratic performance in Tarrant County next year.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD31  100.0%   54.5%   47.3%   53.6%   54.5%   54.3%   53.7%
HD34   61.1%   54.6%   46.5%   53.5%   53.6%   54.8%   52.2%
HD74  100.0%   55.9%   50.4%   53.9%   54.1%   55.0%   53.3%
HD117  57.4%   58.3%   50.7%   54.3%   56.3%   55.9%   53.4%

These are Dem-held districts, and they represent the best opportunities Republicans have outside of the districts they lost last year to win seats back. HD117 went red in 2014 before being won back in 2016, so at least in low-turnout situations these districts could be in danger. Maybe the 2018 numbers just mean that Greg Abbott with a kazillion dollars can do decently well in traditionally Democratic areas against a weak opponent, but this was the best Dem year in a long time, and if this is how they look in a year like that, you can imagine the possibilities. If nothing else, look for the Republicans to use the 2021 redistricting to try to squeeze Dem incumbents like these four.

The anti-vaxxers keep on coming

Eternal vigilance, and some more problematic legislators getting booted out of office, are required.

Among the new Texas proposals is an “informed consent” bill filed by state Representative Bill Zedler, an outspoken anti-vaccine member of the House Public Health Committee. Zedler drew national attention after he downplayed the resurgence of measles, which he had as a child, telling the Observer last month, “Today, with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying [of measles] in America.” (Hundreds of Americans died of measles each year before the disease was considered eradicated in 2000, thanks in large part to the development of a vaccine. Also, antibiotics don’t treat measles, which is a virus.)

[…]

bill filed by state Senator Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, would ban vaccines that haven’t met criteria that Hall — a retired business owner — has determined the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should be using for approval. The bill also requires the state health department to post online a “disclosure of any known injuries or diseases caused by the vaccine” and that the vaccine be “evaluated for [its] potential to: cause cancer, mutate genes, affect fertility or cause infertility, and cause autism spectrum disorder.”< The bill is “dangerous” and a “misunderstanding of how science and clinical trials work,” Lakshmanan said. Any link to autism, first proposed in a now-retracted study, has been repeatedly debunked. “The insinuation of this legislation is that vaccines are not well-tested and not safe, which is erroneous, incorrect and misleading,” she said. Hall did not respond to a request for comment.

Also of top concern for immunization advocates are proposals to make it even easier to opt out of vaccine requirements, even as “conscience” exemptions have skyrocketed in Texas from about 2,300 in 2003 to nearly 53,000 in 2017. A bill filed by House Freedom Caucus member Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would allow nurses to sign off on exemption forms rather than just doctors. Another, from state Representative Tony Tinderholt, would prohibit doctors from refusing to see patients who aren’t vaccinated. And one from caucus member Matt Krause would make it easier to submit vaccine exemptions, and prevent the state health department from tracking them. Health experts say this would prevent the state from preparing for potential disease outbreaks, as well as make it impossible for families of very young or immunocompromised kids to know which communities have low vaccination rates.

See here for some background. You can find all these bills and more by going to the Texas Legislature Online page and doing a word/phrase search for “immunization”. It’s not always easy to tell with the language in these bills, but SB1813 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez, which appears to loosen requirements for pharmacists to administer vaccinations, looks good. I don’t see anything positive relating to the so-called “conscience clause” exemption, which is what allows parents to enroll unvaxxed kids in school because they don’t want to get them immunized. I don’t think we’re there yet for something like this. The best we can do this session is most likely going to be not letting anything bad get passed. Then we need to follow it up by beating as many of these anti-vax schmoes at the ballot box as we can. Make note of those names, these are the targets of interest.

Can we turn the anti-vax tide in the Lege this session?

It sure would be nice, and this needs to be the primary goal.

In Texas, children are required to have certain sets of vaccinations before they can be enrolled in public school – including the vaccine for measles.

But parents who have “reasons of conscience” for not wanting their children to be vaccinated are allowed to opt out of vaccinations, a practice that experts say is forming a dangerous trend that helped fuel the most recent measles outbreak.

Statewide, there was only one confirmed case of measles in each of 2016 and 2017. In 2018, there were nine confirmed cases of measles, authorities say.

There are seven confirmed cases so far in 2019.

The legislature does not define what constitutes a “reason of conscience,” meaning that any parent, for any reason, can decide not to immunize their children against dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases.

Close to 57,000 children in Texas went to public schools unvaccinated in 2018 for non-medical reasons, according to Allison Winnike, president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership. She said those numbers are growing year-over-year since the non-medical, “reasons of conscience” exemption went into effect almost two decades ago.

Concerns about the rise in measles cases is the fulcrum for this. Anti-vaxxers had a good session in 2017, but their advantage is more partisan than non-partisan, and a couple of their leading advocates – Reps. Bill Zedler and Jonathan Stickland – both had close wins in 2018 and will be big targets in 2020, along with others in Tarrant County.

All this is good, but so far the only vaccine-related bill I could find of any value was SB 329 by Sen. Kel Seliger would require a biennial report on any outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and the number of children without vaccines under the “reasons of conscience” law, but it doesn’t change the “reasons of conscience” law itself. That’s where we need to go, and we may as well get started on it this session. And we’d better not wait, because the anti-vaxxers are actively trying to make things worse.

A bill filed in the Texas Legislature this month by Representative Matt Krause, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, would make it easier for parents to request vaccine exemptions. A similar version was left pending after a House Public Health Committee hearing in 2017, but Krause’s new bill would go further, explicitly preventing the state health department from tracking the number of exemptions. Even though the exemption data doesn’t include anything that could identify individual students and is only available at the school district level, Krause and Zedler point to fears among anti-vaxxers that they will be tracked and bullied. “We’ve seen instances in California, stuff like that, where they start hunting people down,” [anti-vax Rep. Bill] Zedler said.

Public health officials say the proposal would curb their ability to identify and stop disease outbreaks, and parents of immunocompromised kids would have even less information to decide where to send their children to school.

“This is the modus operandi for anti-vaxxers in Texas: to promote exemptions, obfuscate and minimize transparency,” said Peter Hotez, a leading vaccine scientist and dean for the National School for Tropical Medicine at Baylor Medical School. “To do this in the middle of a measles outbreak in Texas is especially unconscionable.”

[…]

Krause, who is also backed by Texans for Vaccine Choice, argues that his legislation merely streamlines the process for parents who will obtain the exemptions anyway. He dismissed the many concerns raised by medical professionals last session. “They did a very good job of painting the worst-case scenario,” Krause told the Observer. “I’m not so sure those fears are founded.”

Krause acknowledged that he has already fielded concerns about his bill, in particular the clause preventing the state from tracking vaccine exemptions. He said he would be willing to scrap that language “if Texans for Vaccine Choice or some other vaccine choice groups or other folks from the medical community say that’s a bad idea.” Texans for Vaccine Choice did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Krause’s bill is HB1490. He won by eight points in 2018, so be sure to find a good opponent for him too. As I’ve said many times before, the anti-vaxxers are better organized and far more vocal – Rep. Gene Wu notes his recent encounter with this bunch – but I continue to believe they’re a small minority. This needs to be an issue people lose election over, because the stakes are getting higher. Vox, Mother Jones, and Daily Kos have more.

TAB wants the Lege to quit it with bathroom bills

The talk is good. We’ll see about the action.

Texas lawmakers spent too much time this year debating bathrooms and immigration, and took their eyes off some matters vital to economic growth, such as phasing out the business-franchise tax and easing road congestion, the head of the state’s top business lobbying group said Tuesday.

Texas Association of Business chief executive Jeff Moseley, releasing a scorecard that rates each lawmaker based on selected votes, said his group was pleased to help block a bill that would require transgender Texans to use restrooms that match their gender at birth. It was sorry lawmakers went too far in adding a “show me your papers” provision to a new law banning sanctuary city policies that prohibit police and sheriff’s deputies from asking people about their immigration status.

But Moseley said the business group would have preferred lawmakers pay more attention to things that could spur the Texas economy, such as repealing the franchise or “margins tax” and continuing the use of agreements under which private firms build toll roads. “We were very successful in making sure that a lot of bad ideas didn’t make it to the House floor,” he said. “A lot of those issues that we thought were unnecessary, that were a distraction, those didn’t make it forward to the floor.”

[…]

To prevent future legislation it views as discriminatory and bad for business, the association is upping its game, Moseley said. The group has state and federal political action committees, but they’ve been largely symbolic, handing out endorsements and sometimes $1,000 checks.

In September, the organization started actively fundraising to support business-minded candidates in the March primaries. In a matter of weeks, it raised $200,000, he said.

“The board feels like there’s more opportunity to be a voice for our members and to speak out on business issues in the primary election,” Moseley said.

The TAB scorecard for the 2017 sessions is here. Note that only the Senate was graded on the bathroom bill, because that bill never came to the floor in the House. One has to approach this sort of thing with a good deal of caution, as beyond the broad strokes like opposition to bathroom bills and “show me your papers” laws there are plenty of things that progressives will not care for in TAB’s priorities, and the devil is in the details of others. I could see fit to eliminating the margins tax, for example, as it is an ungodly and underperforming mess, but only if it is replaced by something worthwhile. In the meantime, I’m willing to join hands with them if they put some resources into defeating the likes of Konni Burton and Jonathan Stickland, both of whom scored poorly on their card. You gonna walk the walk, TAB? For related testifying-before-House-committee action, see the Chron and the Trib.

Pushing the NFL Draft angle

Every angle is going to be needed, and this is one that ought to speak to some folks.

The Cowboys’ efforts to land the NFL draft and how it could be derailed by the legislative push for a bathroom bill is part of a $1 million ad buy that will begin to play on radio stations Tuesday.

The Texas Association of Business is behind the ads. The Cowboys aren’t associated with the campaign, but they are featured.

A woman describes herself as a lifelong Cowboys fan and talks about how she’s thrilled that the 2018 draft could be in North Texas. She then says the NFL could reject the club’s bid to host the festivities, costing Texas “millions of dollars in lost revenue and leaving a lot of Cowboys fans angry” if the bathroom bill passes in Texas.

The one-minute ad ends by asking fans to contact their legislators to tell them to reject the bill and bring the NFL draft to Texas. The spot, which will run on 26 stations in the Dallas area, is designed to expand the debate and spotlight potential consequences.

“The bathroom bill distracts from the real challenges we face and would result in terrible economic consequences–on sporting events, talent, on tourism, on investment, on growth, and on small businesses,” said Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business. “That’s why TAB and the Keep Texas Open for Business coalition are investing heavily in radio ads in DFW and focusing on potentially losing the NFL Draft and remain steadfastly opposed to this unnecessary legislation.”

[…]

Behind the scenes, multiple sources say the Cowboys are letting lawmakers know how passage of this bill could negatively impact the franchise’s ability to book sporting and entertainment events at AT&T Stadium and The Star in Frisco. One source described the club’s lobbying efforts against the bill’s passage as “quiet and aggressive.”

The club, like so many other businesses, finds itself in a delicate position. It doesn’t want to antagonize Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the bill’s primary proponent, since there will be a variety of bills down the road that can aid the Cowboys and officials will seek support from the two. But the Cowboys want to get across how they believe altering existing law will impact their bottom line.

Corporations outside the state can threaten not to build or move existing projects and operations out of Texas if the bill passes. The Cowboys don’t have that sort of leverage.

What will Jones do if the bill passes? Move the franchise to Little Rock?

No. But club officials can discreetly point out that the U2 concert that recently took place at AT&T Stadium would not have found its way to Texas if this bill had been law. It can question whether the Big 12 Championship Game and other marquee college matchups and events will be staged in Arlington going forward.

There’s embedded audio of the ad in the piece linked above if you want to hear it. The NFL Draft and the Cowboys’ efforts to bring it to Dallas next year has come up before; this is just a way to bring more attention to that. Whether this campaign will affect how any member of the House votes on bathroom bills I can’t say, but I can say this: AT&T Stadium is located in Arlington, and it is represented in Austin by a total of six people: Sens. Kelly Hancock and Konni Burton, and Reps. Jonathan Stickland, Matt Krause, Tony Tinderholt, and Chris Turner. All but Turner are Republicans, and all but Turner are Yes votes on potty-related legislation. In fact, Stickland and Krause and Tinderholt are all members of the lunatic House Freedom Caucus, whose bill-killing maneuvers at the end of the regular session allowed Dan Patrick to take the sunset bills hostage and force the special session we are now enduring. So, while I greatly appreciate the Cowboys’ lobbying efforts, which no doubt carry far more weight than most, there very much is something they can do afterwards, whether one of these bills passes or not: They can put some of that weight behind an effort to get themselves better representation in the Legislature. It’s not a high bar to clear in this case. Just a reminder that the fight doesn’t end at sine die. The Chron has more.

The anti-vaxxers had another good legislative session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House passes its budget

Mostly shenanigan-free, with a nice little side order of shade for a few people who deserve it.

After 15 and a half hours of debate on hundreds of amendments to the Texas House budget, lawmakers in the lower chamber passed the two-year, $218 billion document, with 131 votes in favor and 16 votes against.

The House vote included using $2.5 billion from the state’s savings account, colloquially known as the Rainy Day Fund. State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, thanked lawmakers for exhibiting “true leadership” with their willingness to tap the fund, “instead of electing to use an unconstitutional transfer from the transportation funding.”

That was a jab at the Senate, which last week approved its version of the two-year budget using a $2.5 billion accounting trick to free up funds dedicated to highway spending. The House must now work with the Senate, which is under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who vehemently opposes using the Rainy Day Fund, to reconcile their budget differences.

House lawmakers, debating the budget late into Thursday night, took several jabs at Patrick and other statewide elected officials throughout the evening.

Included in the fray were Gov. Greg Abbott, who saw one of his prized economic development programs defunded; Patrick, who heard a resounding “no” when his favored proposal to subsidize private school tuition with public funds was put to a vote; and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who lost more than $20 million from his agency’s budget for lawsuits.

On the winning side of the House budget debate were child welfare advocates, who saw funding for foster care and Child Protective Services tentatively boosted; social conservatives, who scored $20 million for the Alternatives to Abortion program; and the lieutenants of House Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team who, in a display of unity, easily brushed aside most challenges from far-right Republicans.

Statewide GOP leaders took some of the heftiest blows in the House chamber. Lawmakers there voted to strip $43 million from the governor’s Texas Enterprise Fund, the “deal-closing” fund the state uses to lure businesses from elsewhere, and divide it into two equal pots: one for Child Protective Services and foster care funding, the other for a program that pays for disabled children’s physical, occupational and speech therapy services. Both are hot-button issues that have dominated the House’s budget negotiations during this legislative session.

[…]

Private school subsidies, a pet issue of Patrick and his Senate, also suffered a perhaps fatal wound on Thursday. House lawmakers voted 103-44 to prevent state money from being spent to subsidize private school tuition in the form of vouchers, education savings accounts or tuition scholarships. The proposal’s author, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said it was “in support of our public schools and our neighborhood schools.”

[…]

Paxton’s attorney general’s office also saw funding gutted by House lawmakers who opted to instead fund programs that serve vulnerable children. Foster care funding would receive $21.5 million that was previously intended to pay for Paxton’s legal services budget under a proposal by state Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, that passed 82 to 61.

See here for more on the Enterprise Fund de-funding, which made me smile. Despite promises of shenanigans and roughly a gazillion amendments filed, there was more good done to the budget than bad. Which is not to say it’s a good budget, but it’s far from the worst we’ve ever seen. Take your positives where you can.

Especially when they involve Dan Patrick getting pwned.

In late March, lobbying group Texans for Education Opportunity used an online campaign to generate thousands of letters to 29 state representatives lobbying them to back education savings accounts, one of the subsidy programs in SB 3. Though the group claimed the letters were credible, the letters stirred up suspicion after no representative could find a constituent who remembered adding their name to that correspondence.

Of the 29 representatives targeted in the campaign, 26 voted Thursday to block money from funding “private school choice” programs.

RG Ratcliffe called it a “mugging”. As former Houston Rockets radio announcer Gene Peterson used to say, how sweet it is. Also, too, going back to the first story, there’s this:

Stickland had filed an amendment defund a state program for the abatement of feral hogs, which he’s become known for championing at the Legislature each session. Stickland railed predictably against the program, calling it “ridiculous” and a waste of money.

“It has not worked, and it never will work,” Stickland said, his voice rising.

That apparently offended rural lawmakers, notably state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. In response, Springer attached an amendment to Stickland’s proposal that would cut the same amount of funding for the Texas Department of Transportation, but only for roads and highways in Stickland’s hometown of Bedford.

Stickland took to the back microphone to cry foul.

“Someone else has chosen to make a mockery of this system and play gotcha politics,” he said before being interrupted. Laughter had erupted in the gallery.

“It’s funny until it happens to you,” he continued.

Springer and Stickland then confronted each other on the middle of the House floor and had to be separated by colleagues. Springer’s amendment ultimately passed, 99 to 26, forcing Stickland to withdraw his own proposal to which it had been attached.

What is best in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of Jonathan Stickland. And Briscoe Cain, too, the Chester to Stickland’s Spike, except without the victorious denouement for Chester. Look, just because the House passed a budget doesn’t mean this is the budget we’ll get. The Senate passed a budget, too, and there are lots of differences to be worked out between the two. The final version will be different, and some of the things we are cheering now may be undone in that. But that’s no reason not to cheer for the things that deserve it now. The Observer and the Press have more.

Some early legislative race news

Just a few links of interest. First, the race in SD24 heats up.

Rep. Susan King

Republican state Rep. Susan King said Monday that she will join an increasingly crowded primary field to replace retiring GOP state Sen. Troy Fraser.

King had earlier said she would not seek re-election to the House, where she is serving her fifth two-year term, while exploring whether to run for Fraser’s district, which encompasses 17 counties mostly in the Hill Country, including a slice of western Travis County.

King, who announced her campaign at an evening event in her hometown of Abilene, joined five other candidates who have said they will compete in the Republican primary

See here for the background. Just a reminder, this district includes Abilene, Austin, and San Antonio. Gotta love redistricting.

Enfant terrible Jonathan Stickland gets a mainstream challenger.

Bedford pastor Scott Fisher plans to announce Tuesday that he is taking on Stickland, according to GOP sources. In recent days, Fisher has been informing friends in the district and Austin of his soon-to-be campaign.

Fisher, who serves as senior pastor at Metroplex Chapel in Euless, has a long resume of public service. He has formerly chaired the Texas Youth Commission and the board of the JPS Health Network, and he currently chairs the Texas Juvenile Justice Department and the board of Metroplex Chapel Academy.

Fisher has also been a member of the Texas Ethics Commission, and served on the boards of One Heart, a criminal justice project aimed at young people, and Mid Cities Pregnancy Center, which helps women deal with unplanned pregnancies.

The story lines will write themselves. All I can say is that a Lege without Stickland will be a better Lege. Having said that, RG Ratcliffe noted that Fisher was a bigwig in the Texas Christian Coalition back in the 90s, so this is definitely a case where one needs to be wary about what one wishes for.

And speaking of those story lines.

High-profile legislative races are already developing in Tarrant County nearly two months before candidates can even file to get their names on the ballot.

Two local Republican races heating up — for House District 99, represented by Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, and House District 94, now represented by Tony Tinderholt of Arlington — offer a glimpse of the type of races ramping up statewide.

“Tarrant County will be a microcosm of the battle between centrist conservative supporters and movement conservative opponents of Speaker [Joe] Straus that will take place across the state,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

[…]

On one side, there’s Geren, president of Railhead Smokehouse and a real estate developer, who has represented the district since 2001 and is a powerful top lieutenant of House Speaker Straus.

On the other, there’s Bo French, a private equity investor and political newcomer from Fort Worth, who served as a chief officer of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s tactical training company Craft International. He drew media attention last year for ending up in court arguing with Kyle’s widow about the future of the company.

The two men and their prominent families have long run in the same circles.

“I’ve known Bo all his life and I’ve known his parents a long time,” said Geren, 65, who added he was surprised when French jumped into the race. “I’m just going to run hard and win.”

French, 45, said he picked this district to run in because he knows a lot of people in the district and believes that his “principles will represent them and their families.”

[…]

Tinderholt, a 21-year military veteran whose past included a bankruptcy filing in the 1990s and several marriages, unseated Rep. Diane Patrick in the GOP primary last year and won a fiery battle in the general election.

“Some ‘establishment’ conservatives may still be angry that Rep. Tinderholt defeated longtime favorite Diane Patrick and may try and unseat him,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Despite concerns he would be a vocal dissenter in the Legislature earlier this year, Tinderholt, 45, for the most part appeared to follow the typical freshman play book, watching and learning.

“You could see he was a work in progress,” Kronberg said. “He was paying attention, learning issues. But throughout North Texas, there’s some despair that there’s very little active representation of the stakeholders (business, schools) that make the community work.”

Now Andrew Piel, 43, has announced he will challenge Tinderholt in the primary..

“This last summer, people came to me and said they had concerns about the effectiveness of the incumbent representing Arlington in an efficient manner,” said Piel, a business and construction law attorney and a former Tarrant County assistant district attorney. “I talked to people for months [and] prayed about it.

“I feel like it’s time for a change.”

Piel has lined up a host of supporters, including community leader Victor Vandergriff, former Arlington Mayors Robert Cluck and Richard Greene, former state Sens. Chris Harris and Kim Brimer, former state Reps. Toby Goodman and Barbara Nash, and Arlington school board members Bowie Hogg and John Hibbs.

Tinderholt is terrible, and a potential longshot pickup if he survives his primary. Geren has survived challenges before and will likely survive this one.

Finally, on the Democratic side, attorney and military veteran Bernie Aldape has thrown his hat into the ring for HD144, joining a field that already includes former Rep. Mary Ann Perez and Pasadena Council Member Cody Ray Wheeler. As things stand right now, that’s the most interesting local Democratic primary, for a seat that ought to swing blue next year.

Rangers finish Stickland report

Rulebreaking but not lawbreaking is the conclusion.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland

A Texas Rangers investigation released Tuesday found that the staff of state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, filled out witness registration forms for people who were not in the Capitol but that no one committed any prosecutable offenses.

House leaders have long said that legislative rules require witnesses who want to participate in a hearing to be physically in the room. Participants are asked to register through electronic kiosks outside the hearing rooms.

The Rangers’ report is the latest twist in a state investigation that began immediately after an April 30 House Transportation Committee hearing at which Chairman Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, accused Stickland of breaking the law by listing witnesses who were not in Austin as supporters of his bill to ban red light cameras. He then ordered Stickland to leave the hearing.

The House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, which launched a probe into the hearing and requested assistance from the Texas Rangers, met for nearly two hours Tuesday, almost entirely in executive session. The closed-door portion of the meeting featured testimony from Rangers involved in the investigation, according to Chairman John Kuempel, R-Seguin.

Kuempel said afterward that the committee members will need time to review the report before deciding on the next step.

“The Rangers’ investigation is closed,” Kuempel said. “Ours is still ongoing.”

The committee also voted unanimously to request that the House Administration Committee plan training sessions for House members and staff on House rules and operations.

See here, here, and here for the background. Stickland is claiming victory and redemption, which of course he is. For everyone else, it’s more training and a rewrite of the rules that were apparently not clear enough for Jonathan Stickland. What a great use of everyone’s time. Trail Blazers has more.

There’s still time for bad bills to be passed

Bad bill #1:

Never again

Never again

After four hours of debate and more than a dozen failed amendments offered by Democrats, the Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to far-reaching restrictions on minors seeking abortions in Texas without parental consent.

On a 21-10 vote, the upper chamber signed off on House Bill 3994 by Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria to tighten the requirements on “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows minors to get court approval for an abortion if seeking permission from their parents could endanger them.

The vote was along party lines with one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, joining Republicans to pass the measure.

[…]

After it reached the Senate, [Sen. Charles] Perry did some rewriting on HB 3994 to address two of the bill’s most controversial provisions on which both Democrats and some conservatives had raised concerns.

As expected, he gutted a provision that would have required all doctors to presume a pregnant woman seeking an abortion was a minor unless she could present a “valid government record of identification” to prove she was 18 or older.

The ID requirement — dubbed “abortion ID” by opponents — raised red flags because it would apply to all women in the state even though the bill focused on minors.

Under Perry’s new language, a physician must use “due diligence” to determine a woman’s identity and age, but could still perform the abortion if a woman could not provide an ID. Doctors would also have to report to the state how many abortions were performed annually without “proof of identity and age.”

Perry said the revised language “gives physician more latitude” to determine a woman’s age.

But Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who spoke in opposition to the bill and questioned Perry for almost an hour, questioned the ID requirement altogether.

“I can’t think of another instance where we presume women are children,” Watson said. “I certainly can’t think of any situation where we presume a man is a child.”

Perry also changed course on a provision that would have reversed current law such that if a judge does not rule on the bypass request within five days, the request is considered denied. Under current law, the bypass is presumed approved if a judge does not rule.

Perry cut that denial provision from the bill, saying it is now “silent” on the issue. But that did little to appease opponents who pointed out a judge’s failure to rule effectively denies the minor an abortion.

“In essence, the judge can bypass the judicial bypass by simply not ruling,” Watson said, adding that the appeals process is derailed without a denial by a judge.

HB 3994 also extends the time in which judges can rule on a judicial bypass case from two business days to five. Perry said this was meant to give judges more time and “clarity” to consider these cases.

But Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, who also offered several unsuccessful amendments, questioned whether Perry’s intentions were rooted in a distrust of women and judges.

“I’m not really sure who it is you don’t trust — the girls, the judges or the entire judicial system?” Garcia asked.

See here for the background. The Senate version is not quite as bad as the original House version that passed, but as Nonsequiteuse notes, it’s still a farce that does nothing but infantilize women. It’s a cliched analogy, but can anyone imagine a similar set of hoops for a man to jump through to get a vasectomy or a prescription for Viagra? The only people who will benefit from this bill are the lawyers that will be involved in the litigation over it. Oh, and Eddie Lucio sucks. Good Lord, he needs to be retired. TrailBlazers, the Observer, and Newsdesk have more.

Bad bill #2:

In a dramatic turn of events, the House Calendars Committee on Sunday night reversed course and sent a controversial bill prohibiting health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace from covering abortions to the full chamber for a vote.

Earlier in the night, the committee voted not to place Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor on the lower chamber’s calendar for Tuesday — the last day a Senate bill can be passed by the House. After fireworks on the House floor instigated by a lawmaker who believed he had entered into an agreement to get the bill to the full chamber, the committee reconvened and reconsidered its vote.

Under SB 575, women seeking coverage for what Taylor has called “elective” abortions would have been required to purchase supplemental health insurance plans.

On Saturday, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, had threatened to force a House vote to prohibit abortions on the basis of fetal abnormalities by filing an amendment to an innocuous agency review bill. But Stickland later withdrew the amendment, telling the Austin American-Statesman that he had agreed to pull it down in exchange of a vow from House leadership that they would move SB 575 forward.

The bill did make it out of the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. But when it got to Calendars, that committee voted it down, leading Stickland to go after Cook on the House floor. Stickland had to be separated from Cook, and House sergeants immediately ran over to prevent a lengthier tussle.

Again, infantilizing women. And speaking of infants, what more can be said about Jonathan Stickland? I know there’s a minimum age requirement to run for office. Maybe there needs to be a minimum maturity requirement as well. Hey, if we can force doctors to assume that women seeking abortions are children, we can assume that any first-time filer for office is a callow jerk. We sure wouldn’t have been wrong in this case.

Bad bill #3:

Senate Republicans on Monday voted to move the state’s Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. The action was spurred in part by last year’s indictment of former Gov. Rick Perry.

The legislation by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would move key decisions about investigating public officials to the Texas Rangers and away from the Democratic-controlled Travis County District Attorney.

The bill was approved in a 20-11 vote, with Democrats casting all the no votes.

[…]

Under the proposed law, any district attorney looking at suspicious activity by a state official would refer the matter to new Public Integrity Unit within the Texas Rangers. That office would then use a Texas Ranger to further investigate the allegation, with expenses handled by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

If confirmed, the recommendation for further action would be sent to the district attorney in the home county of the public official. That district attorney could pursue or drop the investigation.

See here for the background. As I said before, I don’t think this is the worst bill ever, but I do think it’s a guarantee that some future scandal will result from this. And as others have pointed out, it sets up legislators to be treated differently than every other Texan in this sort of situation. That’s never a good precedent to set.

And finally, bad bill #4:

Gays and same-sex couples could be turned away from adopting children or serving as foster parents under an amendment filed by a social conservative House member and expected to be heard Tuesday.

The measure also would allow child welfare providers to deny teenagers in foster care access to contraception or an abortion under a wide umbrella of religious protections for the state contractor.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, has filed the measure that gives state contractors for child welfare services the right to sue the state if they are punished for making decisions based on their religious beliefs.

The state could not force contractors to follow policies providing for contraception or allowing same-sex couples to adopt, for instance. If the state tried to terminate a contract or suspend licensing for the state contractors’ failure to abide by such polices, the contractor could sue, win compensatory damages, relief from the policy and attorneys fees against the state, according to the proposal.

Sanford tried to pass as separate bill earlier in the session, but it failed. The proposal now has resurfaced as an amendment to the sunset bill that would reconstitute the Department of Family and Protective Services.

I’m just going to hand this one off to Equality Texas:

TUESDAY, MAY 26TH, Rep. Scott Sanford will try again to pass an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families

Tell your State Representative to oppose the Sanford amendment permitting discrimination in Texas’ child welfare system.

Rep. Scott Sanford has pre-filed an amendment that he will seek to add to SB 206 on Tuesday, May 26th. This cynical “religious refusal” amendment would authorize all child welfare organizations to refuse to place a child with a qualified family just because that family doesn’t meet the organization’s religious or moral criteria.

If enacted into law, the Sanford Amendment would allow child welfare providers to discriminate against not just gay and transgender families, but also against people of other faiths, interfaith couples and anyone else to whom a provider objects for religious reasons.

The only consideration of a child welfare agency should be the best interest of the child – not proselytizing for a single, narrow religious interpretation.

SB 206 is not objectionable. However, adding the Sanford Amendment to SB 206 must be prevented.

Urge your State Representative to OPPOSE the Sanford Amendment to SB 206.

Amen to that.

Stickland not out of the woods

Despite what he says.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland

A state investigation into allegations that state Rep. Jonathan Stickland improperly registered witnesses to testify on a bill banning red light cameras has cleared Stickland of wrongdoing, his office announced Monday. But two officials involved in the investigation disagreed with the Bedford Republican’s declaration Monday evening.

“I can confirm that we have met with the Texas Rangers working on the case and the investigation is still ongoing,” said Gregg Cox, head of the public integrity unit at the Travis district attorney’s office. Asked about Stickland’s claim that he was personally cleared of wrongdoing, Cox said, “I would not agree with that statement.”

[…]

Earlier this month, the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee referred an investigation into the hearing to the Texas Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Stickland has denied any wrongdoing.

“Late Friday I spoke with one of the Rangers assigned to the case,” said Trey Trainor, Stickland’s lawyer. “I was told that the investigation was over and that I would not be hearing from DPS anymore.”

Trainor said the Travis County district attorney’s office declined to take up the case based on DPS’s evidence.

Cox said Trainor’s assessment is not accurate.

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger also said the investigation remains ongoing.

“At this time, this investigation is under final review by the Texas Ranger management team,” Vinger said.

See here, here, and here for the background. I really have no idea why his lawyer would say something like this if he wasn’t one hundred percent sure he was right. Maybe he just jumped the gun a little, in which case no harm done, but if he’s wrong, you’d have to wonder about his competence. Note that even if this investigation ends with no charges being filed, Stickland may still face sanctions from the House, though in that case I wouldn’t expect much. I guess we’ll know soon enough.

Rangers to investigate Stickland

It’s starting to get real.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland

The Texas Rangers will investigate allegations that witnesses were improperly registered to testify last week on a bill banning red light cameras at a House Transportation Committee hearing.

The House General Investigating and Ethics Committee voted Thursday evening to refer the investigation to the Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Last week, the committee’s chairman, state Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, announced plans to look into the situation.

“The integrity of our committee process depends on reliable and accurate witness information,” Kuempel said Thursday evening.

[…]

After meeting for about two hours in executive session Thursday, Kuempel made a motion for the Texas Rangers to investigate the allegations involving improper witness submissions at the Transportation Committee hearing and report back to the General Investigating and Ethics Committee. The committee approved the motion.

The move represents the latest effort by lawmakers to give the Texas Rangers more authority into investigating allegations of impropriety in state government. The Legislature has also considered a proposal this session to move the state’s public integrity unit, which investigates public corruption cases, from the Travis County district attorney’s office to the Texas Rangers.

See here and here for the background. As noted before, this could be a violation of the law as well as a violation of House rules, hence the Rangers’ involvement. As with their involvement in L’Affaire Paxton, this will be an interesting test of the new “keep the Travis County DA out of it” procedures, though I’d have to assume that if they turn up evidence of something prosecutable they’d turn it over to the Travis County DA, since the crime in question certainly occurred there. But who knows?

Of course, this could also turn out to be a bunch of sound and fury. RG Ratcliffe has an interesting aside in a post comparing the styles and successes of Stickland and fellow “constitutional conservative” David Simpson.

(I have seen a witness testify from the London airport via Skype. Several lobbyists told me they register for or against a bill but aren’t in committee when it comes up. Although someone has to be in the Capitol complex to register over the Internet, I’m told it is possible to register merely by pulling into the driveway of the John H. Reagan Building. The House may have more problems with its electronic witness registration than just Stickland’s bill.)

Make of that what you will. You can see video of the critical exchange between Stickland and Pickett, where the latter calls a couple of the witnesses to verify their whereabouts, at TrailBlazers, and you can read a transcript of it on the Trib. The whole thing is bizarre, no question about it, but how much more than that is the key question. At a guess, I’d say Stickland is in line for some kind of slap on the wrist from his House colleagues, but I’ll be surprised if it goes beyond that.

Stickland responds

He says he did nothing wrong.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland

esponding to claims that he improperly registered witnesses at a committee hearing, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland released a statement Monday standing by his actions.

During a Thursday night hearing of the House Transportation Committee, Stickland, R-Bedford, and state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, the committee’s chairman, got into an argument as Stickland presented House Bill 142, which would ban red light cameras. Pickett ordered Stickland to leave the hearing and accused Stickland of listing witnesses who were not in Austin as supporters of his legislation.

“Unfortunately, when I went to lay out my bill, I was prevented from doing so in a very deliberate and dramatic way,” Stickland said in Monday’s statement. “It was what I can only characterize as an ambush by a political opponent. ”

Stickland said that his attorneys had reviewed applicable laws, rules, and legislative manuals and “have been unable to locate anything that commands that a person must be present in the Capitol to register their support or opposition to a bill.”

[…]

State Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, the chairman of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics said Friday he plans to investigate allegations that witnesses were signed up improperly to speak at the transportation committee meeting. He said the investigation would not target a specific member or bill.

See here for the background and here for the full statement. It can’t be the case that both Stickland and Pickett are right. Either Pickett overreacted or Stickland really did break a rule (and possibly violate a law), despite what his attorneys say. For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen anyone side with Stickland in the coverage I’ve seen so far. RG Ratcliffe certainly seemed to buy into the idea that Stickland might be in trouble, and this Star-Telegram story strikes a similar tone:

Capitol insiders say this fight over rules and procedure may well go deeper.

“At best, it is the appearance of impropriety,” said Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the Quorum Report, an Austin-based online political newsletter. “At worst, there’s potential for criminal violations.”

Doesn’t sound too good for Stickland to me, but what do I know? I look forward to seeing how the House investigation goes. The Statesman and Trail Blazers have more, while the Observer has what may be the definitive Jonathan Stickland article of our time. Check it out.

As Jonathan Stickland turns

Cue dramatic organ music.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland

The chairman of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics said Friday he plans to investigate allegations that witnesses were signed up improperly to speak at a transportation committee meeting from which state Rep. Jonathan Stickland was escorted out.

“There will be an investigation into allegations of broken rules,” said state Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, the committee’s chairman.

Late Thursday night, state Rep. Joe Pickett, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, ordered Stickland out of the hearing. Pickett, D-El Paso, accused Stickland of listing witnesses who were not in Austin as supporters of the Bedford Republican’s House Bill 142 to ban red light cameras.

“Please leave the committee room or be removed,” Pickett told Stickland, according to audience video. A frustrated Stickland left the hearing room, with a security guard following behind him, the video shows.

[…]

Legislative rules require witnesses who want to participate in a hearing to be physically in the room. They must register through electronic kiosks outside the hearing rooms. Witnesses invited by the committee can arrange to testify remotely.

As RG Ratcliffe notes, this could possibly escalate from being about breaking House rules to possibly tampering with a public document, which needless to say would be a big deal. I wonder if the Travis County DA would still get to handle the prosecution. Be that as it may, the potential for high drama, and even higher comedy, is, well, high. Trail Blazers has more.

Budget passes House as most amendments get pulled

It was a long day in the House on Tuesday and Wednesday but not a terribly bloody one as many of the budget amendments and riders that had been queued up got withdrawn. A brief recap of the action:

Border “security”:

BagOfMoney

House Democrats tried — and mostly failed — to divert funds allotted for border security and the Texas Department of Public Safety to other departments during Tuesday’s marathon budget debate.

But the rancor over immigration enforcement that many expected didn’t materialize after lawmakers agreed to pull down amendments that, if debated, would have aired ideological differences over the contentious issue.

After predicting a “bloody day” on the House floor, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, pulled an amendment that would have reduced the appropriations for a public college or university by the same amount that it awarded in grants or financial aid to undocumented students.

Last month, Stickland expressed frustration over the lack of traction for a bill he filed to eliminate a 2001 provision that allows undocumented immigrants in-state tuition.

But on Tuesday, Stickland, with little attention or fanfare, withdrew the amendment after discussions with lawmakers.

“We did some negotiations,” he said.

An amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would have defunded the state’s Border Faculty Loan Repayment Program, which was created to help keep doctoral students on the border to teach, was also withdrawn with little attention.

On the funding, Democrats made good on their promises to try and take money from border security operations, which was at about $565 million when the day began, to local entities or other state departments.

[…]

One border lawmaker had tentative success in transferring money from DPS to his district for local law enforcement grants. An amendment by state Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, would take $10 million from the agency for that effort. But it’s contingent upon another measure — Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen’s House Bill 11, an omnibus border security bill — making it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk and getting signed.

Republicans had a bit more success in shifting money.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, was able to direct money into the state’s military forces for paid training for Texas’ 2,300 members of the reserve unit.

“Most of them reside in most of our districts, and we have zeroed out money for training,” he said.

But the success came after a lengthy back and forth between Huberty and members upset at where the funds would be taken from. Huberty offered one amendment that would have taken $2.2 million from the Texas Agriculture Department. That didn’t sit well with Democrat Tracy King, D-Batesville, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. Huberty eventually pulled that amendment and instead took $2.2 million from the Texas Facilities Commission.

Huberty specified on Monday that the money is not intended to extend the Texas National Guard’s deployment on the Texas-Mexico border.

The Senate wants to spend even more money on the ridiculous border surge, so this fight is far from over. The fact that this is a complete boondoggle that makes the rest of the state less safe, it’s one of the few things that certain legislators actually want to spend money on.

The voucher fight was similarly deferred.

A potentially contentious vote on a measure that would have banned spending public money on school vouchers was avoided after its author withdrew the amendment.

Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) said he pulled the amendment because it wasn’t necessary.

“Given the commitment of the House to supporting public education, I felt this amendment was duplicative,” Herrero said. It also would have forced some lawmakers to take a difficult vote, caught between turning their backs on their district’s public schools and potentially earning the ire of conservative interest groups.

A coalition of Democrats and rural Republican lawmakers has coalesced during the past two decades to defeat voucher legislation. Herrero said the anti-voucher coalition is still strong.

“The coalition is solid,” Herrero said, “Vouchers for all intents and purposes are dead in the House.”

The coalition may be strong, but Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Mechler is working to weaken it. Mechler sent a letter to GOP legislators Tuesday pushing them to vote against Herrero’s amendment.

If you followed the budget action on Twitter, this was the first major amendment to get pulled, and it was a sign of things to come. Attention will shift to Public Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock when that loser of a bill passes the Senate.

Finally, you knew there had to be a moment that would be worthy of the Daily Show and the kind of viral mockery that makes us all heave deep sighs. Sure enough:

Seven hours into Tuesday’s debate on the House’s $210 billion two-year budget, things got first heated and then uncomfortable as state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman, successfully pushed an amendment to move $3 million from HIV and STD prevention programs to pay for abstinence education.

A line of opponents gathered behind the podium as Spitzer laid out his amendment and proceeded to grill, quiz and challenge the lawmaker on his motives.

“Is it not significant that Texas has the third-highest number of HIV cases in the country?” state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, asked. “Does it bother you to know there are people walking around with HIV, undiagnosed?”

Turner and Spitzer also had an exchange over how Spitzer had arrived at his price tag. “If we gave you a billion dollars for abstinence, would that be enough?” Turner asked. “Or would you need two?”

[…]

Texas allows school districts to decide whether and how to approach sex education, as long as they teach more about abstinence than any other preventive method, like condoms and birth control. But a number of representatives questioned the effectiveness of this program.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, pointed out that the state currently has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country, and the single-highest rate of repeat teen pregnancy.

“It may not be working well,” said Spitzer, in reference to the current abstinence education program. “But abstinence education is HIV prevention. They are essentially the same thing.”

State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, took to the podium and asked Spitzer, “Were you taught abstinence education? Did it work?”

Spitzer replied that he was a virgin when he married at age 29. “I’ve only had sex with one woman in my life, and that’s my wife,” Spitzer said.

Dutton continued. “And since you brought it up, is that the first woman you asked?”

“I’m not sure that’s an appropriate question,” Spitzer responded.

The House was called to order, and Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, took the microphone. “Earlier you stated that you could not get STDs without having sex,” she said.

“It depends on what your definition of sex is,” said Spitzer. “I can go through of all of this if you want to.”

“If you still think you can’t get an STD without having sex, then maybe we need to educate you,” Collier added.

Spitzer’s amendment ultimately passed 97 to 47.

Spitzer is a medical doctor, because having one Donna Campbell in the Lege just wasn’t enough. He must have been absent the day they went over how intravenous drug use is a frequent means of transmission for HIV. This is another lesson the state of Indiana could teach us if we cared to pay attention. The Observer, Nonsequiteuse, RG Ratcliffe, Trail Blazers, and Newsdesk have more.

Bill filing deadline has passed

Believe it or not, we are almost halfway through the legislative session, and we have now passed the point where new bills can be filed.

130114152903-abc-schoolhouse-rock-just-a-bill-story-top

Racing to beat a deadline for filing bills, state lawmakers on Friday submitted hundreds of measures on everything from abolishing the death penalty to the licensing of auctioneers.

By the time the dust settled, 928 bills had been filed in the state House and Senate on Friday, setting the chambers up for a busy second half of the legislative session.

“Now, it’s game on,” longtime lobbyist Bill Miller said.

In all, some 8,000 measures are now before the 84th Legislature, including 4,114 House bills, 1,993 Senate bills and 1,771 resolutions.

[…]

The most high-profile bill filed Friday was an ethics reform package supported by Gov. Greg Abbott that long had been expected to be submitted by Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano. Abbott had declared ethics reform a legislative emergency item during his State of the State address last month.

Taylor’s proposal, known as Senate Bill 19 and also backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require state officials to disclose contracts with governmental entities, prohibit lawmakers from serving as bond counsel for local and state governments and make departing legislators and statewide elected officials wait one legislative session before becoming lobbyists.

“There is no more valuable bond in democracy than the trust the people have with their government,” Taylor said in a statement. “The common-sense ethics reform outlined in Senate Bill 19 will strengthen that bond and send a clear message to the people of Texas that there is no place in government for those who betray the trust given to them by the voters.”

Tax policy also was a common theme, with [Rep. Dennis] Bonnen submitting his hotly anticipated proposal to cut business and sales taxes.

The Senate, which in some ways has been moving faster than the House, already has debated several tax proposals, and the issue is expected to be a priority focus of the session.

The Trib highlights a few bills of interest.

— House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, filed his long-awaited proposals to cut the rates for both the margins tax paid by businesses and the broader state sales tax. The margins tax bill, House Bill 32, is identical to one filed by Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. The measures should draw the House more into the tax cut debate this session, which until now has been focused more on the Senate, where Nelson has already held hearings on some high-profile measures.

— Several measures filed Friday aimed at allowing Texas to change its approach to immigration, even as broader proposals stall in Washington.

House Bill 3735 by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, seeks to establish a partnership with the federal government to establish a guest-worker program to bring skilled and unskilled labor to Texas.

House Bill 3301 by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, would recognize undocumented Texans as “citizens” of the state. It would allow them to apply for driver’s licenses, occupational licenses and state IDs if they meet certain residency criteria and are can verify their identity.

“It also opens the door for future conversations about the very real fact that these Texans without status are here, they are not leaving, and we should be doing everything we can to help them find employment, housing and opportunity,” said Laura Stromberg Hoke, Rodriguez’s chief of staff.

— House Bill 3401 by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, seeks to establish an interstate compact between interested states for the detection, apprehension and prosecution of undocumented immigrants.

— Looking to add restrictions on abortion, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, filed House Bill 3765 to beef up the state’s informed consent laws when it comes to minors. Texas law already requires patients seeking an abortion to go through the informed consent process, but Laubenberg’s bill would require notarized consent from a minor and a minor’s parent before an abortion is performed.

— House Bill 3785 from Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, would permit patients with cancer, seizure disorders, PTSD and other conditions to medical marijuana. The measure is broader than other bills filed this session that would only allow low-level THC oils to be used on intractable seizure patients.

— The National Security Agency might have some trouble in Texas if Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, gets his way. House Bill 3916 would make it illegal for any public entities to provide water or electric utility services to NSA data collection centers in the state.

— State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, filed a pair of measures, House Bill 3839 and House Joint Resolution 142, which would ask voters to approve the creation of as many as nine casinos. Under Deshotel’s plan, most of the casinos would be built near the Texas coast, and a large portion of the tax revenue would go toward shoring up the troubled Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the insurer of last resort for coastal Texans.

— In an effort to pave the way for a Medicaid expansion solution that would get the support of conservatives, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed House Bill 3845 to request a block grant from the federal government to reform the program and expand health care coverage for low-income Texans. Though GOP leaders have said they won’t expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, they’ve asked the feds for more flexibility to administer the program. Coleman’s proposal, titled the “The Texas Way,” intends to give the state more wiggle room while still drawing some Republican support.

Here’s a Statesman story about the casino bills. There’s been a distinct lack of noise around gambling expansion this session, which is change from other recent sessions. I suspect Rep. Deshotel’s proposals will go the way of those previous ones, but at least there’s a new angle this time.

Here’s a press release from Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) in favor of the medical marijuana bill from Rep. Marquez; there is a not-yet-numbered companion bill to HB3785 in the Senate, filed by Sen. Jose Menendez, as well. Two other, more limited, medical marijuana bills, the so-called “Texas Compassionate Use Act”, were filed in February. I don’t know which, if any, will have a chance of passage. I will note that RAMP has been admirably bipartisan in its praise of bills that loosen marijuana laws. Kudos to them for that.

If you’re annoyed at Jodie Laubenberg going after reproductive choice again, it might help a little to know that Rep. Jessica Farrar filed HB 3966 to require some accountability for so-called “crisis pregnancy centers’. Her press release is here.

I am particularly interested in Rep. Coleman’s “Texas Way” Medicaid expansion bill. (A companion bill, SB 1039, was filed by Sen. Jose Rodriguez.) I have long considered “block grant” to be dirty words in connection with Medicaid, so to say the least I was a little surprised to receive Rep. Coleman’s press release. I have complete faith in Rep. Coleman, so I’m sure this bill will move things in the direction he’s been pushing all along, but at this point I don’t understand the details well enough to explain what makes this bill different from earlier block grant proposals. I’ve sent an email to his office asking for more information. In the meantime, you can read Sen. Rodriguez’s press release and this Legislative Study Group coverage expansion policy paper for more.

Finally, one more bill worth highlighting:

The proposal introduced by out lesbian Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) would prohibit mental health providers in Texas from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under 18. Those who violate the law would face disciplinary action from state licensing boards.

Israel acknowledged that House Bill 3495 has little chance of passing the Republican-dominated Legislature, and it wouldn’t apply to faith-based practitioners, but she said it’s an important response to the Texas GOP’s 2014 platform plank endorsing reparative therapy.

“I don’t think that they recognize how hurtful these kinds of things can be,” Israel told the Observer. “To suggest that some young kid that happens to be gay is less than normal is very hurtful and harmful and dangerous, and I think I put myself back in those years when I was first discovering who I was. … I felt strongly about introducing a bill that was a counter to that, to say, ‘We don’t need fixing. We just need your love.’”

Virtually all of the major medical and mental health organizations have come out against reparative therapy, from the American Psychological Association to the American Medical Association and the American Counseling Association.

I agree that this bill isn’t going anywhere, but as I’ve been saying, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been filed. Good on Rep. Israel for doing what’s right. Equality Texas has more.

Rallying to save the Texas DREAM Act

It won’t be easy.

With a new Texas legislative session underway and incoming state leaders indicating a desire to repeal the Texas Dream Act, supporters of the law are gearing up for a renewed fight to keep it in place.

A group of about 60 students, businessmen and legislators gathered on the south steps of the Texas Capitol on Wednesday to voice their support for the act, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition after graduating from high school if they have lived in Texas for three years and have signed an affidavit promising to seek legal residency.

State Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, a former undocumented immigrant who benefited from the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, was one of several speakers with a personal connection to the issue.

“I know that measures like [the Texas Dream Act] and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 can change a young adult’s life path, as it did mine,” she said.

[…]

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has introduced legislation to repeal the Texas Dream Act. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick said he wants to end the act, and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has indicated he wouldn’t veto any repeal efforts. Patrick and others have characterized the Dream Act as a reward and incentive for illegal immigration.

At Wednesday’s rally, Bill Hammond, the CEO of the Texas Association of Businesses — which endorsed Patrick for lieutenant governor but has opposed him on this issue — spoke about the economic and social impact of the law.

“They work hard, they go to school, they graduate, they do what we want them to do,” Hammond said. “They will be the future teachers, doctors, architects, engineers in Texas if we allow this program to continue.”

Just as a reminder, the Texas DREAM Act was passed in 2001 with near-unanimous support in both chambers. Times may or may not have changed, but the Republican Party sure has. As for Hammond, he and and his group are going to spend a lot of time fighting the candidates they endorsed on multiple issues. You’d think they’d eventually get tired of that, but I guess a corollary to the definition of insanity is that you believe that this time you really will get a different outcome. (The same problem exists in Congress, too, but, well, you know.) This session is going to be all about what the Republicans want to do, and what (if anything) anyone can do to stop them. Sure hope you kept your receipts on these guys, Bill. Stace, the Observer, the DMN, and Texas Politics have more.

A look at how Democratic legislative challengers did against the spread

It’s been long enough since the election that I feel like I can go back and look at some numbers. Not a whole lot of good out there, but we’ll try to learn what we can. To start off, here are all of the Democratic non-incumbent candidates for the State House and a comparison of their vote total and percentage to those of Bill White and Linda Chavez-Thompson from 2010:

Dist Candidate Votes White LCT Cand% White% LCT% ============================================================ 014 Metscher 6,353 9,980 7,540 28.5 36.3 27.8 016 Hayles 4,744 8,490 5,995 13.6 22.5 15.9 017 Banks 12,437 17,249 12,852 35.4 43.3 32.8 020 Wyman 10,871 15,512 11,232 22.7 31.4 22.9 021 Bruney 9,736 13,174 10,499 25.6 31.3 25.3 023 Criss 14,716 19,224 15,866 45.4 50.1 41.8 026 Paaso 11,074 16,104 12,290 30.3 37.0 28.4 043 Gonzalez 10,847 14,049 12,635 38.6 45.8 41.7 044 Bohmfalk 9,796 13,369 9,847 24.3 32.1 23.7 052 Osborn 12,433 12,896 10,539 38.5 39.4 32.4 058 Kauffman 6,530 10,672 6,913 19.5 29.0 18.9 061 Britt 7,451 10,103 6,725 17.0 23.4 15.6 063 Moran 9,016 10,797 8,107 22.7 27.4 20.6 064 Lyons 12,578 12,238 9,722 33.8 38.0 30.3 065 Mendoza 10,419 10,926 8,921 35.7 37.3 30.5 083 Tarbox 6,218 9,664 6,250 18.7 25.9 16.8 084 Tishler 6,336 9,444 6,969 27.3 33.7 24.9 085 Drabek 9,628 14,460 10,758 33.4 44.8 33.6 087 Bosquez 3,656 6,945 4,736 15.6 25.4 17.4 089 Karmally 11,105 11,192 8,925 28.4 31.7 25.4 091 Ragan 9,346 10,214 8,039 28.2 32.2 25.4 092 Penney 12,553 12,374 10,020 36.4 35.7 29.0 094 Ballweg 16,461 14,852 12,247 40.5 37.1 30.7 102 Clayton 12,234 15,709 12,110 37.5 44.1 34.3 105 Motley 10,469 11,766 9,793 42.7 43.8 36.7 106 Osterholt 9,586 9,112 7,212 27.5 30.1 23.8 107 Donovan 13,803 14,878 11,936 45.0 46.3 37.5 108 Bailey 16,170 17,401 12,859 39.3 42.0 31.3 113 Whitley 12,044 13,483 11,575 40.6 44.8 38.7 115 Stafford 11,761 12,428 9,955 39.5 39.8 32.0 129 Gay 12,519 17,441 12,896 32.2 37.5 28.0 132 Lopez 10,504 12,016 9,677 33.8 37.9 30.8 133 Nicol 11,728 19,800 12,595 25.4 35.7 22.9 134 Ruff 20,312 31,553 21,380 38.8 51.0 35.1 135 Abbas 10,162 13,971 11,005 34.1 39.6 31.4 136 Bucy 15,800 14,742 12,031 41.1 39.7 32.6 138 Vernon 8,747 12,918 9,878 33.2 40.5 31.2 150 Perez 10,317 13,086 9,829 26.8 31.0 23.4

The most encouraging numbers come from Williamson and Tarrant Counties. I discussed the race in HD94 before the election, where the combination of Wendy Davis’ presence on the ballot plus the outsized wingnuttery of Republican candidate Tony Tinderholt helped boost the performance of Democratic challenger Cole Ballweg. Tina Penney, running in HD92 against freshman Jonathan Stickland, also benefited. We’ll want to see what the full comparisons for this year look like, but Tarrant Dems ought to look to those two districts for a place to try to make further gains in 2016.

Nearby in Denton County, Emy Lyons in HD64 and Lisa Osterholt in HD106 both exceeded Bill White’s vote total, though not his percentage. I don’t know offhand where those districts are relative to the city of Denton, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the fracking ban referendum helped them a bit. These results are a reminder of two things – the importance of local issues in engaging voters in off years, and that it’s not enough in places like Denton County to increase vote totals. You have to keep up with the overall population increase as well. Otherwise, you’re falling farther behind even as you move forward. I’ll give Sameena Karmally in Collin County’s HD89 a nod for a decent showing in that tough district as well, with the same caveat about keeping up with the overall growth.

In Williamson, John Bucy’s strong showing in HD136 against freshman Tony Dale should make it a top target for 2016. Bucy nearly equaled President Obama’s 41.2% in HD136 from 2012, so there’s plenty to build on there. Chris Osborn didn’t do too badly in HD52, either. Note that in each district, the Libertarian candidate scored around five points – 5.03% in HD52, and 4.70% in HD136 – so the win number in each of those districts could wind up being less than 48%.

Finally, in Dallas County, the Battleground-backed candidates all fell short, but generally didn’t do too badly, and they continue to offer the best pickup opportunities for continuously Republican-held seats in HDs 105, 107, and 113. An ambitious goal for the Presidential election year would be to win back HDs 117 and 144, and take over 105, 107, 113, and 136. With no statewide race above the level of Railroad Commissioner but Presidential year turnout – if we work at it – to make things more competitive, I see no reason not to view that as a starting point.

That’s not all we should focus on, of course – I agree with Campos that we should put a lot of effort into local race around the state, which in Harris County means finding and funding a challenger to County Commissioner Steve Radack. Frankly, we should be doing that in 2015 as well, in municipal and school board races. Maybe that will help some people understand that we hold elections in the other three years, too, and their participation in those elections is needed and would be appreciated. This is something we all can and should work on.

Special session for border security?

What could possibly go wrong?

State Sen. Dan Patrick, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, joined some of his conservative colleagues on Tuesday in calling for “immediate action” to address the surge of undocumented immigrants crossing into Texas.

“The Texas Department of Public Safety has indicated that sustained operations along our southern border will require $1.3 million per week,” Patrick said in a statement. “I am calling on the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to immediately allocate $1.3 million a week in emergency spending for the rest of the year for added border security through Texas law enforcement.”

A call placed to the Legislative Budget Board about whether a special legislative session would be necessary to set aside such funding has not yet been returned. Patrick’s statement did not specifically say whether he supports calling a special session on border security, which some of his GOP colleagues have suggested.

[…]

Last week Attorney General Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, wrote U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and asked for $30 million for a state-based border security initiative. The U.S. Border Patrol, he said, was overwhelmed by the influx of undocumented immigrants, including about 160,000 who have crossed into Texas in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector since October, including about 33,500 unaccompanied minors.

“With the Border Patrol’s focus shifted to this crisis, we have grave concerns that dangerous cartel activity, including narcotics smuggling and human trafficking, will go unchecked because Border Patrol resources are stretched too thin,” he wrote.

[Rep. Jonathan] Stickland said he and others would consider tapping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund for the state-based border security initiative if the federal government did not provide relief. Details of the plan would probably be debated should a special session be called, he added.

“This is a crisis situation depending on who you are talking to,” he said. “I haven’t heard any price tag — I have just heard people say this is a top priority. Depending on what we’re talking about, there are a number of different ideas. We need to start having these discussions and start figuring out what’s on the table.”

In a statement last week, state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said more resources on the border won’t properly address the crisis on the border.

“What we are dealing with is an influx of children fleeing from Central American violence; imagine a situation so dire that you allow your children to travel a dangerous journey — thousands of miles — to a foreign land,” he said. “What is needed are not more “boots on the ground” or any other euphemisms for the militarization that both impacts border residents’ daily lives and is inadequate to deal with the specific issue at hand.”

I confess, I have not followed this particular issue closely. My longstanding opinion about border and immigration issues is that we have a supply and demand problem, in that vastly more people want to enter the US than we allow to enter by legal means, and just as having an excessively low speed limit on a stretch of otherwise open road leads to a lot of people speeding, having excessively stringent limits on legal immigration leads to a lot of people finding other ways in. If we had a system that was more realistic, more compassionate, and more flexible about the demand to immigrate, we’d have far, far fewer people trying to enter illegally. For that reason, I believe the people that insist we must “secure the border” as a precondition for doing anything else have it exactly backwards and are exacerbating the problem. Of course, I also believe that a lot of these “secure the border” people have no interest in solving the problem, but instead have an interest in exploiting it. That’s a whole ‘nother story, so let’s leave it at that.

Anyway, the immediate political issue appears to be resolved for now, so that will likely quiet the talk about a special session. If it does come up again, remember that Rick Perry – who has the sole discretion to call a special – will do what he thinks is best for Rick Perry. If he thinks it would be beneficial to his Presidential campaign (I still can’t say the words “Presidential campaign” in the context of Rick Perry with a straight face), then he’ll call it. If not, he won’t. He’ll take into account the wishes of his fellow Republicans, but his own needs come first. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Texpatriate, Stace, and Burka have more.

Pay no attention to Mark Jones

This is a really bad idea.

I'm the One True Conservative!

I’m the One True Conservative!

At least for the time being, the Republican primary is the decisive election for the governance of Texas.

In contrast, the most pressing issue facing Houston-area Democratic primary voters will be whether they prefer safe mainstream candidates or provocative and potentially damaging outsiders as the party’s long-shot nominees for U.S. senator and agriculture commissioner, and as the Democratic candidate for Harris County district attorney.

Opinion polls reveal that in recent years, a large majority of the Texans who vote in the GOP primary elections are very conservative. At the same time, many of the most conservative advocacy organizations have become increasingly sophisticated in monitoring and evaluating politicians and aggressive in backing candidates they support and in attacking those they oppose. For better or worse, the days of some elected officials being able to successfully maintain separate and distinct Austin and district personas appear to be numbered.

This political context has created strong incentives for GOP candidates to avoid allowing any credible rival to move to their right. In turn, the goal of not being ideologically outflanked often generates a centrifugal force that pulls the candidates further and further to the right. Only in Texas do candidates feel it necessary to vehemently deny claims that they are moderate, pragmatic or reasonable.

The GOP lieutenant governor and attorney general primaries, in which candidates are trying to outflank each other with issues popular with the base GOP constituency such as illegal immigration and abortion, are prime examples of this phenomenon.

For every action, there’s a reaction, and some Texas Republicans are now trying to pull the party back to the center-right. These pragmatic center-right conservatives view their “movement” conservative brethren, commonly called the tea party, as excessively ideological and obstructionist. They fear the latter’s rhetoric and actions jeopardize the state’s continued economic success as well as the Republican Party’s long-term dominance in the Lone Star State.

[…]

Texans who wish to take a side in this GOP civil war, or who simply want to have a greater say in the direction of public policy in Texas during the latter half of the decade, should seriously consider participating by voting early, by mail or on Election Day in the March 4 and May 27 (runoff) Republican primaries.

In the competitive statewide races, including those for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and agriculture commissioner, there exist notable differences among the candidates in terms of their ideological position, policy profile and vision for the future of the Texas GOP. Similar differences exist in a myriad of contests at the legislative district and local levels. Of course, in many races, to uncover these differences, you have to wipe away the near-identical “strong conservative” body paint the candidates have covered themselves with. But once you review each candidate’s record, the individuals and groups supporting them and their platform, you will find in most instances that they are not all peas from the same pod.

Where to even begin with this?

1. To say that “some Texas Republicans are now trying to pull the party back to the center-right” is a giant copout. Who are they, what are they doing, and what influence do they have? The fact that Jones doesn’t cite even a single name or organization is telling. Sure, there is some pushback going on in some local races – see, for example, the primary challenge to first term teabagger extraordinaire Rep. Jonathan Stickland in HD92, or the fight for Harris County GOP Chair – but if there’s something like this happening at the statewide level, it’s not apparent to me.

2. I’ll stipulate that there are candidates for Lite Guv and Attorney General – one in each race – that have a track record of mostly pragmatic, non-crazy governance. Both of them are running as fast as they can away from those records, since they correctly recognize that their records are obstacles to overcome in their current races. Note also that Jones did not name the candidates he had in mind. I’ll venture a guess that one reason he didn’t name names is because he knows what would happen if he did: Every other candidate in those races would pounce on his proclamation that so-and-so is secretly a moderate and would govern as one if elected, and the candidates themselves would then be forced to respond by making statements along the lines of “I am not a moderate! I eat moderates for breakfast and gnaw on their bones for a late night snack!” As for the Comptroller’s race, I have no idea who he thinks the undercover moderate is. The three main contenders are a Senator best known for sponsoring the draconian anti-abortion bill HB2, a member of the House that Jones’ own metrics identified as one of the more conservative members last session, and a gadfly whose main claim to fame is running to the right of Rick Perry in the 2010 GOP primary for Governor. Boy, I can just feel the center-right goodness emanating from these races.

3. Believing that a candidate with a moderate/pragmatic/non-crazy past record but who is campaigning for another office as a fire-breathing Cruz-worshipping One True Conservative will revert back to his old ways once elected is just breathtakingly naive on its face. Perhaps Mark Jones also believed that Mitt Romney would have acted as if he were back to being Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney if he had been elected President. Here’s the thing: Voters don’t actually like it when a candidate they’ve elected who promised to do certain things then goes and does the exact opposite of what they said they’d do while campaigning. Just as legislators can’t pretend to be one thing in Austin and another in their home district, candidates can’t pretend to be one thing on the trail and another at the Capitol. We have the Internet now. It’s impossible to maintain two personas any more. Maybe that’s a bad thing, but as Mark Jones himself noted, it is how it is these days.

4. But let’s take Mark Jones at his word for a moment that we Democrats who foolishly think we have our own candidates to choose should go ahead and support the Secretly Moderate and Pragmatic Republicans in the Lite Guv and AG races. How do you think these candidates will react if we help propel them to victory? Will they react by saying “Boy, I sure am glad all these voters saw through my charade of being a raving loony conservative so I can go back to being the moderate pragmatic that I’ve spent the past six to twelve months vehemently denying that I am”? Or will they react by saying “I thank all those voters who recognized me as the One True Conservative in this race, and I will reward your faith in me by governing as the One True Conservative I have promised to be for you”? When one is rewarded for a certain type of behavior, one tends to continue behaving in that fashion. I don’t know about Mark Jones, but if I were to catch my dog pissing on the rug, I’d yell at him to stop doing that right now. I wouldn’t go and give him a Milk Bone on the theory that he’d always been a well-behaved dog up till now and I’m sure he intends to going back to being a good dog again once he’s finished proving his canine bona fides to the cat.

5. Finally, we Democrats do have important decisions to make in our own primary. Wendy Davis does have an opponent, after all. Whoever we nominate for US Senate will be a massive underdog, but taking our eye off the ball and letting Kesha Rogers even slip into a runoff would be a disaster of Biblical proportions, one that really would do damage to Wendy Davis’ campaign. The Ag Commissioner race does matter, and Dems have a choice between two very different candidates, each with a plausible case to make for their candidacy. (I’m ignoring Jim Hogan, who doesn’t appear to be campaigning.) The Railroad Commissioner race matters. Locally, not everyone is in SD15, but you’d better believe that race is a big deal. We have to decide who we want to run against County Clerk Stan Stanart, and anyone who follows elections closely knows how important that is. And of course, unless we want to concede the DA race to Devon Anderson, it’s vitally important that everyone with any inclination to vote Democratic get out there and support Kim Ogg. If you want to vote in the GOP primary, Mark Jones, knock yourself out. Beyond that, please keep your brilliant ideas about how the rest of us should vote to yourself.

Some are elected to do things, others are elected to not do things

Meet the opposite ends of the spectrum in the Legislature.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Jonathan Stickland

They were the freshest of the freshmen — the two youngest members of the largest freshman class of the Texas House in 40 years. And even before they took office, Mary González, an El Paso Democrat who will turn 30 in October, and Jonathan Stickland, a tea party Republican from the Fort Worth suburbs who will be 30 in September, each had made a defining declaration.

Stickland announced his ambition to compile the most conservative voting record of any member of the Texas House. “It’s time to do battle,” he said.

And González, uncomfortable with the imprecision of being described as the first openly gay woman to be elected to the Texas Legislature, announced to the Dallas Voice that she was actually “pansexual.” She explained that gender isn’t binary but a spectrum, and she has said that while her partner may be a lesbian, “I’m not.”

“Authenticity is important to me,” she said in a recent interview.

It was a breathtaking bit of sharing, especially for a representative who was from a socially conservative district and who was about to enter an institution that is dominated by an older generation of men and has had only one openly gay member — Austin’s Glen Maxey, who left the House a decade ago.

Though the 83rd Legislature ended its regular session just two weeks ago, it isn’t too soon to conclude that its two youngest members, in very different ways, had successful freshman seasons. Their experience offers a window into the sometimes surprising workings of the Legislature, and how novice members find their way amid the hurly-burly of the biennial mayhem, and why it is that a member of the board of the Texas organization for “queer people of color” might find herself more welcome than the darling of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party.

[…]

Some of this might be the Seinfelds of informed opinion purposely placing the stocky Stickland in the role of Newman (“Hello, Stickland”) as an inviting target. But insults in Austin are music to the ears Stickland cares about back home. Think U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“Has Ted Cruz ever passed a bill? I don’t think he has, but he’s one of the most influential and powerful senators, and he’s done it as a freshman,” said Stickland, who, in fact, passed a bill with state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, to allow excused school absences for the children of active-duty military personnel. “Ted Cruz has become a sensation because of what he’s fought against and not what he’s fought for. People love him for it.”

Yes, I’m sure it’s now the fondest wish of Jonathan Sticklands everywhere to grow up to be Ted Cruz. No question, from reading the story or just generally following the news from the Capitol this year, Stickland had a lot of success with his mission to obstruct anything he didn’t like. If that’s what he wants out of being a legislator, and that’s what the people who elected him want out of him, then mission accomplished. I’m sure there will be some political opposition to his tactics back home, not to mention opportunities for payback among his colleagues if the people of Stickland’s district ever ask him to get a bill passed for them, but he’ll just turn that into fuel for his persecution complex, like every other straight white boy from the suburbs who’s convinced that he’s the real victim here.

On a much more pleasant and productive note, there’s fellow freshman Rep. Mary González, who was paired with Stickland in this article not just for their youth but also for their position on the political spectrum, with Stickland measuring as the most “conservative” member while González was the most liberal.

González’s success, which might have seemed even more unlikely, was her ability to surmount her exotic introduction, emerging from the session as the Mexican American Legislative Caucus freshman of the year, and, it seems from relationships she’s forged across party lines, something like the Miss Congeniality of the class of 2013. In her unique 140-day gestation in the Capitol hothouse, she seemed to find a way to become one of the boys without becoming one of the boys.

“It’s been a lot of hard work to go to 149 members to get them to go beyond their projections, beyond their stereotypes, beyond the stigma and beyond the boxes,” González said. “Hey, I’m getting a Ph.D. Hey, I grew up on a farm. Hey, I am so much more than the one thing, the only thing that people want to write about.”

Or, as state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, a fellow freshman who sits next to her in the House and represents an adjoining border district, put it, “Mary’s the only woman on this floor who can palpate a cow.”

“In heels,” adds González.

How the cow got into those heels…never mind. I was channeling Groucho Marx there for a minute. Carrying on:

Rep. Mary Gonzalez

Earlier in the session, state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who chairs the State Affairs Committee, serves on Calendars and sits diagonally behind her on the House floor, told her, “ ‘You’re basically the same age as my daughter, so you’re going to be my adopted daughter on the floor,’ and that’s kind of what we did. She’s a wonderful young lady to work with.”

Of Cook, said González, “I’m so surprised how close I have gotten to him.”

Asked to compare her approach to Stickland’s, Cook said, “I think you catch more bees with honey.”

And, unlike Stickland, González focused mostly on more targeted legislation for her district.

“We were able to get wastewater service to three colonias, sewerage to over 1,000 families in my district,” González said of the impoverished neighborhoods. “That’s amazing. No one is ever going to write about that, but I know what it means.”

“Mary is pretty much positive, not only a sunny disposition but a very positive person,” said state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, a veteran Democrat from Laredo. “You get the sense with Jonathan that he’s just not very content with anything.”

[…]

When she showed up as a member of the Agriculture and Livestock Committee, Chairman Tracy King, D-Batesville, said he assumed she had gotten stuck with the assignment, but he was delighted to find out that she grew up in 4H, the daughter of a Texas A&M agricultural extension agent in El Paso, and that the committee had been her first choice.

“We developed a kinship sitting next to one another on the ag committee,” said state Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station. “I like to judge people for myself, and we’ve formed an incredible relationship.”

[…]

For González, the real drama during the session was internal.

She recalled staying up all night when she was a UT student to testify against capping automatic admissions to state universities under the top 10 percent law.

“I wouldn’t be here without it,” she said of the law guaranteeing state university admission to those in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Then last month, a bill by Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch to extend the limits that she opposed was headed to the House floor, and she realized the bind she was in.

“When I was in my previous life, I could more actively fight it, but I’m a member, and you know Chairman Branch has done a lot for El Paso and a lot for my district, as far as bringing the medical school to El Paso,” González said.

“It’s this tension,” she said, “between sticking up for what you think is important and against what you think is oppression, and the reality that you still have to work with these people tomorrow and they can stop your bills, which are also trying to end oppression.”

In the end, she said, “I asked a few questions on the back mic; I talked to him,” but it was clear the bill was going to pass. She was still one of only seven votes against it, but she wasn’t as vociferous in her opposition as the old Mary might have been. “You’ve got to pick your battles.”

I was in Austin for a training class last month, and had the pleasure of meeting Rep. González at the ten year reunion of the Killer Ds. My impression of her, even before meeting her, was as positive as everyone else quoted in the story. She’s already got at least one opponent for next March, and the story notes that her predecessor, former Rep. Chente Quintanilla, is also thinking about getting in. Rep. González will have the support of her caucus mates, who have committed to her over their former colleague, and she’ll have mine as well. The world is full of Jonathan Sticklands, but it’s the Mary Gonzálezes that truly leave a mark. Stuff does need to get done, and we need the people who are there to get it done working for us.

Student RFID bill gets House hearing

We knew this day would come.

Last fall, San Antonio’s Northside ISD began issuing radio-frequency identification (RFID) enhanced student IDs to help with its attendance records. Austin began a small opt-in RFID program last fall, and in 2010, two Houston-area districts began tracking kids with RFID. The trend has gotten national attention.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) wants to end the practice. On Tuesday, her bill outlawing mandatory RFID student tracking got its day before the House Public Education Committee. Like the most outspoken critics of RFID tracking—whose worries range from civil liberties to religious convictions—her co-authors on the bill are an unlikely bunch, from Fort Worth Democrat Lon Burnam to freshman Bedford Republican Jonathan Stickland.

The bill would let school districts use RFID tracking, but would protect any student who wanted to opt out. Big Brother would have to ask permission to watch if you’re cutting class.

Northside ISD’s insistence that students participate is the subject of a federal lawsuit, brought by Andrea Hernandez, a student told she had to wear the RFID badge at John Jay High School.

[…]

[Badge-maker Michael] Wade said the devices don’t really track students, but create “a cookie trail” of the last place the students were when a scanner picked up their device. “After awhile they would know if someone was using this tag if it was in the library when they should be in the gym,” Wade said.

School districts that use the devices say they’re useful safety measures, particularly in emergencies, and can help lead to higher attendance counts—which translates to more funding from the state.

Still, support for outlawing RFID requirements is wide-ranging—from, for instance, the American Civil Liberties Unions and the conservative Virginia-based Rutherford Institute, which represents Hernandez in the suit against Northside.

See here, here, and here for the background. Northside ISD won the suit in district court; a motion for an injunction pending appeal was rejected as well. The fervor around this pretty much befuddles me. I get that people feel strongly about this, but it’s one of those things that just doesn’t move me. The fact that the Hernandez’s beliefs are objectively wrong is a side issue that never gets discussed in the mainstream accounts of the story. Anyway, if this comes to a vote in the House I will expect it to pass. In the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t that big a deal.

Knife rights

With all the talk about guns this year, it should be noted that they are not the only weapons under consideration in the Legislature.

HB936 by Rep. Harold Dutton would decriminalize the possession, manufacture, transfer, repair, or sale of switchblade knives in Texas by amending Sections 46.05 (a)(d)(e) of the Penal Code. At the same time, it would reaffirm that switchblade knives could not be brought into the very same areas defined as “no go” areas for CHL holders with weapons.

HB1299 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland is a pre-emption law; it would forbid cities, towns, and Counties from writing anti-knife laws more restrictive than State of Texas knife laws. Again, this normalizes knife laws, and makes them more like gun laws in Texas. For example, Travis County does not get to ban AR-15s, though I’m sure some of the denizens there would like to.

Molly Ivins used to say “I’m not anti-gun, I’m pro-knife”. I wonder what she’d have to say about all this. As for me, I favor HB936. I’ve never quite understood why switchblades are treated differently than other kinds of knives. It makes sense to me to make the code more uniform, and to decriminalize that which didn’t need to be criminalized in the first place. As for HB1299, I don’t feel particularly strongly about it one way or another. I do find it interesting that a politician who would fiercely resist the federal government telling a state what it can and can’t do, as Rep. Stickland is, would have no trouble using the power of the state to tell cities what they can and cannot do. I don’t quite get the theory behind that, but then I’m not one of those people that thinks the federal government is per se a bad thing. Your mileage may vary. In any event, you might want to keep an eye on these bills. See here for more.

The birth control poll

The Texas Freedom Network would like you to know that Texans support having access to birth control.

A new statewide poll from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund shows Texans believe that access to family planning and birth control is important and should not be limited by a woman’s income level, employer or medical provider. Voters support government taking action to ensure that Texas women can make their own decisions about family planning, including providing state funding for family planning and birth control programs in the state.

Support for state funding for providing access to family planning services and birth control for low-income women is both broad and deep, crossing political, racial, generational and geographic lines. Moreover, strong support exists for access to birth control among religiously observant Texans, including both Catholics and Protestants, as well as Born-again Christians.

Here’s the poll memo:

Texans believe that access to family planning and birth control is important and should not be limited by a woman’s income level, employer, or medical provider. Voters support government taking action to ensure that Texas women can make their own decisions about family planning, including providing state funding for family planning and birth control programs in the state.

Support for state funding for providing access to family planning services and birth control for low-income women is both broad and deep, crossing political, racial, generational, and geographic lines. Moreover, strong support exists for access to birth control among religiously observant Texans, including both Catholics and Protestants, as well as Born-again Christians.

Voters support efforts to make birth control more accessible to women, not less. Texans oppose the cuts to funding for family planning made by the state Legislature in 2011 and want to see funding restored. They also oppose allowing employers to deny their employees health care coverage for family planning services and birth control, and want to ensure that state funding for family planning goes to medical providers that offer a full range of family planning services, including birth control.

The results in this report are based on a statewide poll of registered Texas voters, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Chesapeake Beach Consulting for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. The survey reached a total of 604 registered voters in Texas and was conducted February 6 – 11, 2013. The margin of sampling error for the sample is +/- 3.99 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

The poll was conducted jointly by Democrat Anna Greenberg and Republican Bob Carpenter. It has certainly accomplished the goal of getting media attention, as these Chron, DMN, Statesman, AusChron, and Hair Balls stories show. But only the Texas Observer notes the disconnect:

Despite the overwhelming evidence of support for family planning services, some legislators have filed bills that go after contraception. Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), for example, is pushing “Hobby Lobby” legislation, which would give tax breaks to companies, like Hobby Lobby, that face federal fines over their refusal to provide emergency contraception coverage to their employees through insurance.

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) filed HB 1057 last week, which would prevent abortion providers or their affiliates (like Planned Parenthood) from providing sex education materials for public schools.

But, according to [TFN President Kathy] Miller, this study only illustrates that lawmakers have lost sight of what Texans actually want. “Last legislative session, we saw some legislators openly declare war on contraception. Texans clearly want that war to stop,” Miller said.

I’m not surprised by this poll result, and I do hope it gets a lot of attention. But, and I hate to be a wet blanket here, the fact is that many Republican legislators have nothing to fear, or at least they believe they have nothing to fear, from it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when was the last time someone lost an election in Texas for being wrong on birth control? Far as I can tell, the next time will be the first time. Lord knows, there are plenty of Republicans who’ll be on the ballot in 2014 that should take heed of this, starting with our promiscuously litigious Attorney General/Governor wannabee Greg Abbott, who’s been busy amicus-briefing the federal courts over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate for employers, including Hobby Lobby. But until someone actually does lose an election over this, why should we expect anything or anyone to change? Someone needs to start convincing some of those Republican women to reconsider some of the people they’ve been voting for.