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Jose Menendez

The updated scenarios for a SD06 special election

It’s complicated.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

The resolution to the special election stalemate between state Sen. Sylvia Garcia and Gov. Greg Abbott likely will come after the November general election and could yield a special election after the Legislature convenes in January.

The likely solution — an “expedited election,” triggered by a vacancy within 60 days of the legislative session — comes out of a combination of codes and statutes that leave open a relatively wide election date window.

If Abbott follows timing laid out in the Texas Constitution and Election Code, the special election is likely to fall between early December and mid January, depending on when Garcia resigns.

[…]

The Legislature convenes Jan. 8, 2019, meaning the expedited period begins Nov. 9.

Once Garcia resigns, her resignation could take up to eight days to become effective. From there, the Texas Constitution gives Abbott 20 days to call an election before the “returning officer” in the district with the vacancy gains that authority.

Abbott has not indicated he would hold off on calling the election once Garcia resigns, but if it comes to that, the Constitution does not define the term “returning officer.” However, it has been generally interpreted to be the county clerk.

[…]

Garcia has not said when she would resign within the expedited period, but in an emailed statement to the Chronicle, she said she will do “whatever I can to make sure the 850,000 Texans in SD 6 are represented by the beginning of the next legislative session.”

If Garcia resigns Nov. 9 — the first day of the “expedited election” period — and her resignation quickly becomes effective, Abbott could schedule the special election in early December. If he wanted to delay the election until the session starts, he could order it in mid-January.

The governor has not stated that he would schedule the election in May or seek to delay it into session at all. But he has stopped short of promising a date before Garcia resigns. Abbott’s office sent the Chronicle the same statement it has stuck with for weeks, saying “the ball is in (Garcia’s) court.”

Basically, at this point’ we’re more or less back at the Letitia Van de Putte situation, in which I remind you that the special election to succeed her took place on January 6 and Sen. Jose Menendez was sworn in in early March. We could get the special election sooner than that, and maybe there won’t be a runoff, but that’s the best case. In the worst case, Abbott plays semantic games with what the various legal terms mean and we have to resolve this in court. All I can say I wish Sen. Garcia had resigned back in May, like I originally thought she might.

The potential Sylvia effect

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

As we know, Rep. Gene Green is retiring, and as we also know, Sen. Sylvia Garcia is one of the contenders to succeed him. As noted before, this is a free shot for Garcia, as she would not otherwise be on the ballot in 2018. If she loses, she gets to go back to being Sen. Garcia, until she has to run again in 2020. The same cannot be said for at least one of her opponents, Rep. Armando Walle, who will not file for re-election in HD140 as the price for pursuing CD29. Unlike Garcia, the downside for Walle is that he would become private citizen Walle in 2019. The same is true for Rep. Carol Alvarado if she joins in.

This post is about what happens if Sen. Garcia wins, because unlike the losing scenario she would step down from her job. Again, the same is true for Rep. Walle, but the difference is that Walle’s successor will be chosen (or headed to a runoff) at the same time Walle’s fate is decided. His successor will be in place to take the oath of office for HD140 in January of 2019, having been officially elected in November.

There is no potential successor for Garcia on the horizon, because her term is not up till the 2020 election. There will only be a need for a successor if she wins. Because of this, the process will be different, and Garcia has some control over it.

For these purposes, we will assume Garcia wins the primary for CD29, which is tantamount to winning the general election; the Rs don’t have a candidate as of this writing, and it doesn’t really matter if they come up with one, given the partisan lean of the district. So what happens when Sylvia wins?

Well, strictly speaking, she doesn’t have to resign from the Senate until the moment before she takes the oath of office for CD29. At that moment, her Senate seat will become vacant and a special election would be needed to fill it. That election would probably be in early March, with a runoff in April, leaving SD06 mostly unrepresented during the 2019 session.

Of course, there’s no chance that Garcia would resign in January. Most likely, she’d want to act like a typical Congressperson-elect, which would suggest she’d step down in November, probably right after the election. That would put SD06 in roughly the same position as SD26 was in following Leticia Van de Putte’s resignation to run for Mayor of San Antonio. The special election there was on January 6, with eventual winner Jose Menendez being sworn in two months later.

She could also resign earlier than that, perhaps after she wins the nomination in March or (more likely) May. Doing that would ensure that her successor was in place before January; indeed, doing it this way would give her successor a seniority advantage over any new members from the class of 2018. I think this is less likely, but I’m sure she’d consider it, precisely for that reason.

Whatever schedule to-be-Rep. Garcia chose to leave the Senate, we would not be done with special election considerations. As was the case with SD26 in 2015, it is at least possible that Garcia’s eventual successor would be a sitting State Rep, which means – you guessed it – that person would then resign that seat and need to be replaced. We could wind up having quite the full calendar through 2018 and into early 2019. The second special election would not be a sure thing, as one top contender could well be soon-to-be-former Rep. Walle, who will spend the next few months campaigning in that area – CD29 and SD06 have quite a bit of overlap – but I figure Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez would be in the mix as well, possibly Jessica Farrar, too.

So there you have it. We could have up to four extra elections in the next twelve to fourteen months. Be prepared for it

Poker clubs

I wish them luck.

Michael Eakman, a poker aficionado from a very young age, has hosted poker tournaments from around the country, but Texas gambling laws have long shut him out of his own state and his hometown of Houston.

This year, however, he opened the city’s first restricted membership-based poker club, joining several Texas entrepreneurs who believe they have found a way to circumvent those regulations and host everything from friendly poker games to competitive tournaments.

Unlike traditional gambling houses, Mint Poker in southeast Houston does not take a share of any gambled money, referred to as raking the pot. Instead, the club and similar ones across the state charge membership fees for players wanting to play in the club, a business approach that pushes the boundaries of legal gambling.

But so far, Eakman and other entrepreneurs in Austin and north Dallas haven’t drawn any unwanted attention from the Legislature or state regulatory agencies. Their efforts are gaining enough traction that they’re looking to expand. They have formed an association to represent their interest and are hoping to establish more clubs across Texas.

“In our conversations with the city attorney here in our jurisdiction, we made everyone aware of what we were doing before we even signed the lease,” Eakman said. “I certainly don’t want to challenge anyone to bring a court case, but I think at the end of the day we’re handling this by being proactive instead of reactive is the way to do this. … There are no regulations and guidelines other than the narrow scope of a very vague law.” Bingo, horse and dog racetracks, Native American casinos and even the state-run Texas Lottery all provide outlets for Texans trying to test their luck.

[…]

At least three other membership-based poker clubs have opened in addition to the Houston business: Texas Card House with two locations in Austin, and Poker Rooms of Texas in north Dallas. They recently joined forces as the Texas Association of Social Card Clubs, and have begun working with longtime utilities lobbyist Tim VonKennel to represent them within the Texas Legislature, Eakman said.

VonKennel is the father of Texas Card House owner Sam VonKennel, and said he helped organize the Texas Association of Social Card Clubs to increase legislators’ awareness of membership-based poker clubs in Texas.

“The Legislature hasn’t really seen it yet because it hasn’t really existed,” VonKennel said. “As they pop up, I want to make sure the Lege is aware of them. What I would really like to do is get these guys to become licensed with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, and that way they’re absolutely certain they’re on the right side of the law.”

Sen. Jose Menendez, a Democrat from San Antonio, said he was involved with the creation of membership-based poker in Texas, encouraging Eakman to devise a business model that could clear the hurdles of Texas gambling laws when they met at a poker tournament.

“I think it’s a little hypocritical that we can have a state lottery or horse racing in texas but we can’t let people play poker,” Menendez said.

Basically, as far as I can tell, these things are legal until proven otherwise, which is to say until some law enforcement agency makes an arrest, or until Ken Paxton issues an opinion. The story above appeared a few weeks ago and fell into my drafted-but-never-got-around-to-publishing pile, then I saw this AP story and dug it back up. As noted, while the state has not given an opinion on this sort of thing, local law enforcement has, at least in some places.

On Sept. 7, Dallas police executed a search warrant at CJ’s Card Club on Walnut Hill Lane. Police filed a report alleging the keeping of a gambling place. The case remains under investigation. A department spokeswoman declined to release any further information.

The club has since closed, its website and Facebook page have been shut down, and its operators could not be reached.

Around that same time, Poker Rooms of Texas closed after Plano police questioned the legality of that operation. The club opened late last year in a strip center storefront on Parker Road off Independence Parkway. It reportedly attracted scores of players each night.

Its website states that it “is working with local authorities to resolve operational issues.” Its owners did not return messages.

The website for Lucky’s Card Room in Fort Worth says the club is temporarily closed while it works on a new location. And the site for TopSet Poker Club in Plano stated that its grand opening, formerly set for September, has been delayed while it considers options in light of problems identified at similar businesses.

Big Texas Poker Club opened in late August in a commercial building off Jupiter Road in Plano. Owners Fred and Heather Zimmerman said they did their homework to ensure that they would be legal. Three weeks later, they shut down to avoid arrest.

“This is a legitimate business, and it’s better than illegal poker rooms,” Fred Zimmerman said.

The couple said they were transparent about their club as they sought a city permit to open. Only after they started gaining members did they receive “threatening letters” from police stating that their business model violated the state’s gambling law.

Plano City Attorney Paige Mims said certificates of occupancy are about the fitness of a building and have nothing to do with the activity inside. As for whether a private card room can operate, she said the city does not give legal advice.

Police spokesman David Tilley declined to go into details about his department’s conversations with the poker rooms. “Gambling is illegal in the state of Texas,” he said.

In other words, if you have a favorite spot to play Texas Hold’Em, don’t get too attached to it. I should note that there was an effort in the 2009 legislative session to carve out a legal exception for poker, but it didn’t make it. If there’s been a similar effort since then, I’m not aware of it; that one had a social media/PR push behind it and there’s been no such thing in subsequent sessions. The legislator who filed the pro-poker bill back then was then-Rep., now-Sen. Jose Menendez, who as you can see still supports the idea. Like I said, I wish these guys luck. I’m not a poker player myself, but I see no reason not to let ’em play.

House takes a different direction on trees

Better than the Senate version, for sure.

The Texas House added a potential wrinkle to Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda on Thursday, giving early approval to a bill that would allow property owners to plant new trees to offset municipal fees for tree removal on their land.

The initial 132-11 vote on House Bill 7, a compromise between builder groups and conservationists, is a replica of legislation from this spring’s regular legislative session that Abbott ultimately vetoed, saying the bill did not go far enough. His preference: barring cities altogether from regulating what residential homeowners do with trees on their property.

[…]

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont and the author of HB 7, said the bill was the result of months of negotiations between developers, conservationists and city officials. He said his bill and laws that go further to undercut local tree ordinances could coexist.

“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat bill, this isn’t a liberal or conservative bill, this is where people choose to live,” Phelan said at a Tuesday committee hearing. “They know it’s there when they decide to live there.”

See here and here for some background. I can’t see the Senate accepting this bill in place of the one it passed, a House version of which is in the House Urban Affairs Committee, whose Chair, Rep. Carol Alvarado, says there’s no need for it now that HB7 has been passed. The remaining options are a conference committee, in which we get to see which chamber caves to the other, and letting the matter drop. Good luck with that, Dan Patrick.

By the way, if you want to get a feel for how ridiculous that Senate bill and the whole idea of a glorious fight against socialistic tree ordinances are, here’s a little story to illustrate:

On Wednesday, during floor debate over SB 14, [bill author Sen. Bob] Hall answered a Democratic senator’s half-serious question about why he hated trees by saying, “I love trees … I also love liberty.” Hall has lived in Texas less than a decade and is perhaps best remembered as the guy who claimed that “Satan” had a “stranglehold” on his GOP opponent, former Senator Bob Deuell. In Hall’s statement of intent on SB 14, he played constitutional scholar, claiming that “private property rights are foundational to all other rights of a free people” and that “ownership gives an individual the right to enjoy and develop the property as they see fit.” Therefore, placing any restrictions on when a property owner can prune or remove a tree “thwarts the right to the use of the property.”

This absolutist formulation, which in casual speech is reduced to “I luv liberty,” would seem to disallow virtually any restrictions on what property owners can do to their property. What exception is possibly allowed here?

Well, plenty, if you’re a Republican who has very special trees in her district that must be protected from personal liberty. It was a minor moment on the floor on Wednesday, but it was a telling one: Senator Lois Kolkhorst, she of bathroom bill fame, got assurance from Hall that his bill wouldn’t touch Section 240.909 of the Texas Local Government Code, a statute that “applies only to a county with a population of 50,000 or less that borders the Gulf of Mexico and in which is located at least one state park and one national wildlife refuge.” That’s Lege-speak for Aransas County, whose beautiful and iconic windswept oak trees you may have seen if you’ve ever vacationed in Rockport.

In 2009, Representative Geanie Morrison and Kolkhorst’s predecessor, Glenn Hegar, passed a bill allowing the Aransas County Commissioners Court to “prohibit or restrict the clear-cutting of live oak trees in the unincorporated area of the county.” It seems some unscrupulous people were clear-cutting the oak trees, upsetting the locals, diminishing property values and harming the tourist economy. Something had to be done: Personal liberties were chainsawing the shared values of the community.

Hall assured Kolkhorst that his bill wouldn’t touch Aransas County, an apparent exception to Liberty’s purchase on the other 253 counties in the state that he didn’t bother to explain. But when Senator Jose Menendez, a San Antonio Democrat, asked if an exception could be made for San Antonio’s ordinance, which he said helps keep the air clean, Hall balked.

And thus, the important Constitutional principle of “my trees are better than yours” is upheld. God bless Texas, y’all.

Harris County Attorney files amicus brief in SB4 lawsuit

Good.

Last week, Harris County Commissioners Court opted not to join a lawsuit challenging the state’s controversial “sanctuary cities” law as unconstitutional.

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, however, has filed a brief asking a federal court to halt its implementation on Sept. 1.

“S.B. 4 will do irreparable damage to this State’s child welfare process, place county attorneys charged with representing DFPS in an irreconcilable conflict, and do further trauma to children who have been placed in the State’s care. Further, there is no legitimate state purpose in treating children who have an unauthorized immigrant parent or other potential care giver differently in child welfare cases,” states Ryan’s brief, which was filed this month in federal court.

[…]

Special Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke said that come Sept 1., with no injunction stopping SB4’s implementation, the county attorney’s office does not know how it will handle certain child welfare cases.

“That’s an ethical hell that we do not want to experience, and that’s why Vince Ryan has asked the federal court for guidance,” O’ Rourke said.

You can see the specific objections in the story. This is not as good as if Commissioners Court had voted to join the litigation, but it’s something. In the meantime, Cameron County and the city of Laredo have joined the plaintiffs, and there are a couple of bills to repeal SB4 that have been filed for the special session, though of course neither of them will get anywhere. It’s still important to make the stand, and in the better-late-than-never department, business interests are weighing in as well. It’s hard to overstate how much damage the Republicans in charge have done to Texas’ reputation this year, and there’s still more to come. Stace has more.

“Sanctuary cities” bill gets final passage

It’s done.

The Texas Senate on Wednesday voted 20-11 to accept the House’s version of Senate bill 4, legislation that would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas and allow police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain.

The bill now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who declared the legislation an “emergency item” in the early days of the legislative session, and is widely expected to sign it.

The legislation makes sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders subject to a Class A misdemeanor if they don’t cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to deportation. It also provides civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and climb to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction. The bill also applies to public colleges.

But the final version also includes a controversial House amendment that allows police officers to question a person’s immigration status during a detainment, as opposed to being limited to a lawful arrest. Democrats and immigrant rights groups argue this makes the bill “show-me-your-papers”-type legislation that will allow police to inquire about a person’s immigration status during the most routine exchanges, including traffic stops.

Before Wednesday’s vote, some lawmakers were still hopeful the bill would go to a conference committee where lawmakers from both chambers could strip the amendment from the bill. But during a floor debate Wednesday before the measure was approved by the Senate, the bill’s author, state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said that the bill doesn’t require that officers ask a person’s immigration status. However the language does leave the door wide open for officers to make such inquiries if they feel the need during routine stops.

“We certainly don’t want ‘walking while brown’ to lead to reasonable suspicion,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. “It will happen. And in some parts of my district, it already is happening.”

[…]

It’s unclear however, if Abbott’s signature on the bill will be the end of the conversation. Several lawmakers have said a lawsuit to stop the implementation of SB 4 is very likely and cite several reasons, including legal questions surrounding the federal preemption of immigration laws and whether ICE detainers are voluntary.

Before the final vote, Perry seemed to acknowledge as much.

“We will let the court systems figure this out,” he told state Sen. Jose Menendez during a lengthy back-and-forth about probable cause.

You better believe there will be lawsuits. I trust we’ll have top-notch lawyers on this, I just hope the courts will keep up. May this wretched law never spend a day being enforced. The Chron, the Observer, and RG Ratcliffe have more.

“Sanctuary cities” bill passes in Senate

As expected.

The Texas Senate late Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a controversial immigration measure to ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in the state.

Senate Bill 4, filed by state Sen. Charles Perry, would punish local and state government entities and college campuses that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials or enforce immigration laws. The vote was 20-11 along party lines.

It would also punish local governments if their law enforcement agencies fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over immigrants in custody for possible deportation. The punishment would be a denial of state grant funds. The bill doesn’t apply to victims of or witnesses to crimes, public schools or hospital districts.

[…]

The vote came after Perry added tough civil and criminal penalties for entities that don’t comply with the bill’s provisions. One amendment would make a department head whose agency violates the provisions of SB 4 subject to criminal prosecution in the form of a class A misdemeanor. Another added a provision that would subject the local agency to civil penalties, including a fine at least $1,000 for the first offense and $25,000 for each subsequent violation.

The severity of the proposals prompted state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston to ask Perry how far he was willing to go.

“What’s the next [amendment] going to do? Take their first born?” she asked.

The upper chamber also predictably shot down by party line votes several amendments Democrats offered to make the bill more palatable to their constituents, including a measure by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would have excluded college campuses. An amendment by state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, which sought to require peace officers to learn immigration law was also voted down, as was another by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. that would have prohibited the arrest of a person only because he or she was in the country illegally.

Garcia also asked Perry to remove a section of the bill that would punish a local entity for “endorsing” a policy that prohibits or discourages enforcing immigration law. Garcia said that section could be a violation of an elected official’s right to free speech and could be interpreted broadly.

See here for the background. There will certainly be lawsuits filed when this thing gets signed into law. The fact that legal genius Ken Paxton swears it’s legal is irrelevant – was there ever a chance he wouldn’t say that? – though what the courts ultimately do with this remains to be seen. (Other lawyers disagree with Paxton’s assessment.) The thing that needs to happen of course is for there to be a political price to pay for passing this bill. Lots of people showed up to testify against SB4. We need that same kind of turnout next November. Stace has more.

More on the cost of a bathroom bill

Whatever one thinks of the Texas Association of Business, you have to hand it to them for their lobbying focus on the great potty issue.

With the legislative session just weeks ahead, the Texas business community is digging in its heels in opposition to Texas Republicans’ anti-LGBT proposals, warning they could have dire consequences on the state’s economy.

Representatives for the Texas Association of Business said Tuesday that Republican efforts to pass a bill to keep transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and another that would shield religious objectors to same-sex marriage could cost the state between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs. Those figures are part of a new report from the prominent business group.

“The message from the Texas business community is loud and clear,” Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business, said at a press conference at the Texas Capitol during which he was joined by representatives for ad agency GSD&M, IT company TechNet and SXSW. “Protecting Texas from billions of dollars in losses is simple: Don’t pass unnecessary laws that discriminate against Texans and our visitors.”

Those figures — based on an economic impact study conducted by St. Edward’s University and commissioned by the business group — depict the possible economic fallout in Texas if lawmakers move forward with legislation similar to North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill and Indiana’s so-called religious freedom law.

[…]

Though the Texas Association of Business and Republicans are regularly legislative comrades, the business group has long warned lawmakers against moving forward with anti-LGBT efforts and it has picked up its lobbying against those proposals as Republican leaders, namely Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have vowed to push more extreme measures.

A copy of the report is here. We first heard about it a month ago. Here’s the bullet-point summary from the intro:

In summary, the studies demonstrate that discriminatory legislation could:

  • Result in significant economic losses in Texas’ GDP, with estimates ranging from $964 million to $8.5 billion
  • Result in significant job losses with estimates as high as 185,000 jobs
  • Substantially hamper the state’s ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, especially among Millennials
  • Drastically impact convention and tourism industry, which has a direct economic impact of $69 billion, generates more than $6 billion in state and local tax revenues, and directly and indirectly supports more than 1.1 million Texas jobs (Economic Development and Tourism, Texas Governor’s Office, 2015)
  • Serve as a catalyst for domestic and global companies to choose other states over Texas to start or expand their business.
  • Alienate large, globally recognized businesses, including Apple, Google, Starbucks, British Petroleum, Marriott, IBM, PayPal and the National Football League, which have opposed this amendment and similar ones
  • Allow for an expansion in discrimination, which is counter to prevailing public opinion and conflicts with corporate policies that prioritize diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

As we know, Dan Patrick does not believe that passing a bathroom bill, which is one of his top priorities for this session, will have any negative effect on Texas. He finds it “ridiculous” and “more than offensive” that anyone would boycott Texas (as they have done in North Carolina) over it, and he says he’d consider losing the 2018 election over passing this bill to be an acceptable risk. He can believe what he wants, but the evidence is right there.

Patrick has shrugged off suggestions that major sporting events would stay away from Texas if his proposal became law. But those fears have been heightened in San Antonio, which is set to host the NCAA Final Four in 2018.

After North Carolina passed its version of a restroom law, the NCAA moved seven college basketball championship games out of the Tar Hell State, the NBA canceled its All Star Game and the Atlantic Coast Conference withdrew its college football championship and woman’s college basketball tournament, along with other events. Large companies such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank also dropped expansion plans in the state.

“I think the evidence is crystal clear that the NCAA will not host anymore championships in Texas if we were to pass a law similar to North Carolina,” said state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. “I don’t need anymore proof than seeing what they did in North Carolina. Why would they treat Texas differently? Whey would they give us a special pass?”

I don’t think it’s possible for them to make it any clearer that they wouldn’t. And by the way, there are a lot more events than just the Final Four – the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship finals will be right here in Houston, at BBVA Compass Stadium, this Friday and Sunday, possibly for the last time if Patrick gets his way. Which gets me back to the question I keep asking, which is at what point does the TAB take him up on that and work to make Dan Patrick the next Pat McCrory? Because losing an election is the only language Dan Patrick will understand, and the lesson he will learn if TAB rolls over and endorses him as usual in 2018 is that he is not accountable to them, or to anyone. Your windup is great, TAB. Now let’s see your follow-through. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Publisher of crappy Mexican American Studies textbook defends said textbook

It’s not that crappy, she swears.

The publisher of a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook that scholars, elected officials and Hispanic activists have decried as racist and inaccurate is defending the high school text ahead of a public hearing on the book Tuesday before the Texas State Board of Education.

“There’s never been a book in the history of SBOE that’s been attacked so prematurely in the process,” said Cynthia Dunbar, a former right-wing Republican member of the education board who now heads the educational curriculum company that produced the textbook.

The text, titled Mexican American Heritage and published by Momentum Instruction, was the only submission the board received after it issued a call in 2015 for textbooks to be used in Mexican-American studies classes at the high school level. The powerful 15-member panel sets statewide curriculum and approves textbooks.

[…]

Dunbar, who had not previously responded to interview requests, told The Texas Tribune on Monday that criticisms have been overblown and that most of them are based on a draft copy that her company has since revised. Changes include corrections of at least a few factual errors — one identified by an SBOE-appointed review board — and other tweaks in response to public feedback. The passage that implied that Mexican-American laborers are lazy has been “clarified,” Dunbar said, while contending that critics took that particular bit out of context.

“It exposed a racial bias stereotyped against them,” she said, noting that the review board found that the book totally met state curriculum standards.

“The point is there’s no hidden agenda here,” she added.

See here and here for some background. It’s nice that Dunbar says the book has undergone revisions and fixed some errors since it first appeared, but Dunbar has a long history of saying and doing ugly things, so her credibility isn’t very high. I’ll wait to hear from someone more trustworthy before I believe there’s any merit to her publication. In the meantime, the advice of rejecting this book and (one hopes) getting other groups to write them remains sound. See this open letter from SBOE member Marisa Perez for more.

The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be any support for adopting this textbook.

Hundreds of Hispanic advocates, activists, students and elected officials from across the state on Tuesday called on the Texas Board of Education to reject a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook they blasted as blatantly racist and which many scholars have deemed historically inaccurate.

The 15-member education board took public input on the text during an hours-long public hearing at which some of the panel’s Republican members criticized the Legislature for diminishing the education board’s power to vet textbooks.

The panel will vote to accept or reject the text in November, when it will hold a second public hearing.

[…]

Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville, who was so concerned about the text that he convened an ad-hoc committee of scholars and educators to review it, said he believes a supermajority of his colleagues will vote to reject it. (A report his committee unveiled last week found that the text is littered with errors.) Meanwhile, Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, described the text Tuesday as “dead on arrival” and board member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said he has “real concerns” about it.

Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, kicked off the public hearing with a heartfelt message dedicated to “Mexican-American colleagues, friends and neighbors,” assuring them that the board is committed to approving accurate instructional materials that adequately reflect their major role in U.S. society.

“Your story is part of the American story,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have their story told in a fair and accurate manner.”

Several Republican board members criticized Texas legislators on Tuesday for passing laws over the years that have diminished the panel’s authority to decide what textbooks local school districts use. And they warned that their weakened oversight could mean the proliferation of even more controversial instructional material.

They pointed specifically to legislation approved in 2011 that allowed school districts to choose textbooks that haven’t been approved by the board as long as they can show their instructional materials cover state curriculum standards. (Senate Bill 6, passed in the wake of a raucous, high-profile debate over social studies curriculum in which members of the board’s since-diminished social conservative block — including Dunbar — grabbed national headlines for their extreme comments.)

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, and other board members complained repeatedly Tuesday that the law allows for publishers to peddle problematic textbooks directly to school districts. He and former board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked Democratic Hispanic lawmakers who addressed the board if they’d be willing to reconsider those parameters.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, acknowledged that “legislation has a history of unintended consequences and this very well may be a case.”The Senate Education Committee is “looking at everything including this issue you’re bringing up,” state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who is a member of that panel, told the board.

But Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, said the purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was not to “re-litigate” old legislation but discuss whether the text should be allowed in Texas classrooms.

“Not only does this book not belong in the classroom, it doesn’t deserve the attention it’s getting now,” he said.

I agree, but at least all the attention has accomplished one thing, and that’s the real need for a much better textbook. Let’s hope the next time around we get more than one possible candidates for that.

2016 primaries: State races

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

Not that Gene Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overview of two Bexar County legislative primaries

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

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

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

[…]

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more time for TMF-Menendez

It’s on, again.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Fifteen-year state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Sunday he’ll run for Texas Senate District 26 next year against incumbent José Menéndez.

The March 1 Democratic primary race will pit the same contenders who battled for the seat earlier this year in a special election to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, also D-San Antonio, who gave up the seat in a failed bid for mayor.

Menéndez won that Feb. 17 contest by a 3-2 margin, and it wasn’t long before Martinez Fischer began hinting at a rematch, asserting that Menéndez was too beholden to Republicans who helped him win election.

Sen. Jose Menendez

The same charge was made Sunday when about 200 supporters gathered at a West Side restaurant to hear Martinez Fischer’s declaration, which came on the eve of Monday’s filing deadline for party primary candidates.

Drawing endorsements from U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and state Reps. Roland Gutierrez and Justin Rodriguez, all D-San Antonio, Martinez Fischer vowed to be a fighter for District 26. He said he would use his understanding of the legislative process to ward off GOP-backed measures that he views as harmful to constituents.

Without mentioning him by name, Martinez Fischer said Menéndez “bragged” that he voted for the state budget even though it was inadequate in many areas.

“I doubt he bragged to our public school teachers who work in classrooms that are overcrowded and underfunded. I doubt he bragged to the parents and families who go without insurance, without Medicaid, because they can’t afford the premium or the state cut their services,” Martinez Fischer said.

We’ll see how it goes. I know the conventional wisdom was that Menendez won the special election runoff on the strength of Republican votes, but those votes came on top of a base of Democratic support. The budget is a legitimate issue, but (again, despite the proffered wisdom at the time of the runoff), I can’t think of any other actions by Menendez that stand out as campaign fodder. But hey, that’s why they run the races. TMF’s decision means his HD116 seat will be open, and you can expect a flurry of candidates to sign up for that. One way or another, the San Antonio legislative delegation turns over some more. The Trib and the Rivard Report have more.

Will there be TMF-Menendez round 2?

Maybe. Who knows?

Sen. Jose Menendez

Last February, Jose Menendez beat Trey Martinez Fischer to serve the remainder of Leticia Van De Putte’s term when she decided to run for mayor.

Campaign finance reports filed Wednesday may point to a rematch this fall.

“Without money you don’t get your message out, so that’s why having money is important,” says Senator Menendez.

“It’s quite a compliment and a testament to the work I do in Austin, and that believe in my public service,” says Martinez Fischer.

Combined the two men have raised more than $400,000 , according to their campaigns and finance reports.

[…]

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

“There’s no doubt about it, I’m giving it some very serious consideration. The special election was just in very recent memory, but there isn’t a day goes by in San Antonio that I’m not stopped in the street, or talking to people in a restaurant where they don’t ask about this race,” says Martinez Fischer.

“I can’t worry about who’s going to run, I have to worry about doing my job, and at the end of the day, come Election Day if I’ve done my job then the voters I believe will send me back to Austin,” says Menendez.

[…]

Menendez came in second in the general election, and then won handily in the runoff, and he admits he had Republican Party backing, he’s not sure he’ll need it if he and Martinez Fischer meet again.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many slick ads are cut, it doesn’t matter how many fliers you have, or how many signs are out there. What matters is that people believe that you care enough to work on what matters to them,” says Menendez.

Anything is possible, but let’s remember two things. One, for all the hullabaloo and self-loathing among some Democrats for the way Menendez won the runoff, the fact remains that even TMF’s post-election analysis showed Menendez had significant Democratic support. Republican voters preferred him over TMF, but that was likely more about them disliking TMF and his combative personality, as there was no ideological reason for them to have a preference. And that’s point two: For all the hue and cry about Menendez being more “conservative” than TMF, there’s nothing I know of in his voting record, in the House or in his short term so far in the Senate, to back that up. If TMF challenges Menendez in March – and I say this as someone who likes TMF and would have voted for him in SD26 if I had lived there – what does he have to use against him in that race? My guess is this would be one of those all-heat, little-light races that everyone hates. This is how it goes when two candidates that have no real difference between them on the issues battle it out. I have no opinion about whether or not TMF should challenge Menendez in March. If he does it’s fine and if he doesn’t it’s fine. All I’m saying is that the special election runoff from this year has nothing to tell us about how such a race might go next year.

Senate passes a voucher bill

Hopefully, this will die in the House.

Some low-income families unhappy with their public schools would get help paying private school tuition under a plan that won tentative approval in the Texas Senate Monday.

Senate Bill 4, which would use state tax credits to entice up to $100 million in business donations to fund a scholarship program, cleared the chamber 18 to 12 with two Republicans, Konni Burton of Colleyville and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, breaking party lines to vote against the measure. One Democrat, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, voted in favor.

Before it passed, Democrats raised concerns about the plan, arguing that it diverted money that should be going to public education into an unaccountable private school system. “They don’t have the same kinds of requirements that our public schools do,” said state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso. “I can’t seem to get around that.”

While defending his proposal, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, insisted that the legislation should not be considered a private school voucher program — a notion that has proven politically toxic in the Legislature.

“I don’t think we are taking money from the public schools. The student is leaving,” said Taylor, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “This is private money — not state money — that is donated.”

Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, said he viewed the legislation as a way to “short circuit around the whole voucher concept.”

“It is money that a corporation will be giving to a scholarship program in lieu of paying tax,” he said.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, called on Taylor to add language banning private schools participating in the program from using Common Core, the national set of curriculum standards that Texas lawmakers prohibited in the state’s public education system in 2013.

“It just defies logic that you would apply a different standard to private schools using taxpayer subsidized money,” said Ellis, after his amendment was tabled at Taylor’s urging.

Senators Rodriguez, Menendez, and Ellis have hit the highlights here. This is a strong point, too.

Rev. Charles Johnson, director of Pastors for Texas Children, a public school advocacy group, said the push for vouchers is more a fight for money than improving educational opportunity for poor students.

“If this were about kids, we’d target those 70 or 80 struggling schools out of 8,500 public schools and we would give them the resources they need to succeed,” he said. “The Legislature consistently refuses to do that.”

Well yeah. That would cost money. Dan Patrick already thinks we spend too much money on public education. Even the credulous Erica Greider notes that under this bill, families with above-median incomes would be eligible for these “scholarships”, a name that’s more about branding than anything else. It’s a giveaway to people who don’t need it at the expense of people who do, and there’s no evidence from existing voucher programs elsewhere that it does anything to improve educational outcomes. Like I said, let’s hope it dies in the House, as it should.

HD124 runoff date set

Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Ina Minjarez

The runoff in the special election in Texas House District 124 will be April 21 under a proclamation issued Thursday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Pitted in the race to fill the unexpired term of now-state Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, are attorney Ina Minjarez and former Councilwoman Delicia Herrera, both Democrats.

Minjarez was the top vote-getter in the four-person special election on March 31, capturing 42 percent of the vote, followed by Herrera with 28.

Early voting starts Monday, as in this Monday – see here for times and locations. The short turnaround time won’t do anything to help improve turnout, but again, the longer the time between Election Days, the less time the next Representative would have to represent that district. The tradeoff seems worthwhile to me. Best of luck to both candidates.

HD124 special election overview

Early voting for the special election to fill Sen. Jose Menendez’s now-vacant HD124 seat begins Monday. The Rivard Report provides a brief profile of three of the candidates in that race.

Delicia Herrera

Delicia Herrera, 41, who served on council from 2007 through 2012, said her experience representing the district, which overlaps the House district by 90 percent, clearly makes her the most qualified candidate for the job.

“I know the issues. At the state level, you don’t address the details of particular issues. But being on city council, a lot of the issues you cannot address without partnerships with the State,” Herrera said.

The first in her family to go to college, Herrera’s public school experiences informed her education policy positions. She credits full-day pre-kindergarten with creating the “foundation of a strong educational path for me,” and was in 5th grade in the Edgewood school district when the Supreme Court of Texas decided the landmark Edgewood Independent School District v. Kirby, altering the formula used to fund Texas schools, a decision that reverberates in Texas law and politics to this day.

Today, Herrera owns two homes, one in the Edgewood district and one in the Northside district. She noted, and a review of the Bexar County Appraisal District records confirm, that she pays four times more to Northside than to Edgewood, a differential greater than the difference of appraised value of the respective homes. This inequality rankles Herrera.

“Property taxes are how schools are funded. My unique perspective of Edgewood and Northside shows me that Edgewood’s big problem is that we don’t have the property taxes to sustain what we need to do there. We don’t have the business tax base.”

But while education is a priority for the constituents of HD124, she said transportation is the district’s top concern. She expressed frustration with congestion in the district, but said she’s opposed to the diversion of funds from the vehicle sales tax.

Following the passage of last year’s constitutional amendment, which is expected to add $1.74 billion of new transportation spending for fiscal year 2015, multiple bills have been introduced in this session seeking even more funds for transportation. Often these bills earmark funds from certain revenue streams such as the vehicle sales tax. Herrera would prefer to fund transportation out of general revenue.

Ina Minjarez

This is the first run for a legislative office for Ina Minjarez, 39, but in 2006 she narrowly lost a judge’s race in County Court at Law No. 5 and lost in her second attempt for that bench in the Republican wave of 2010. She said her desire to serve remained; she decided to run after exploring the possibility with members of the community.

“I received very positive feedback,” she said.

Born in El Paso, her mother was an elementary school cashier and her father a veteran who started his own concrete business. Their dedication to her education led Minjarez to Notre Dame, and then St. Mary’s University School of Law. A six-year stint in the District Attorney’s office followed. Today she works in private practice.

“As a small business owner, I know the concerns that I’ve had with my small business,” Minjarez said. “I want to be a champion on behalf of small business owners.”

She’s sending out mailers introducing herself to the voters of HD124, and after several days of blockwalking, she too identified transportation as a top voter priority – and it’s no wonder: congestion at the intersections of Highways 90, 151 and 1604 provide constant headaches to residents, two-thirds of whom spend between 15 and 44 minutes getting to work, according to the District Profile Report.

Minjarez said she “liked what she saw” after reviewing two filed bills that earmarked proceeds from the vehicle sales tax to be used for transportation funds, but said she’d have to do more research if elected.

She said was generally in favor of providing prekindergarten statewide, but worried about the greater cost.

For almost all the issues we discussed, Minjarez said she preferred to seek out bill sponsors and their staffs to get more information before committing to specific positions.

Nathan Alonzo

Nathan Alonzo, Alonzo, while he has no elected experience, has spent the last five legislative sessions in Austin working on behalf of the firefighter’s union, so is very familiar with how things get done in the legislature.

“You’ve got to understand this process,” Alonzo, 53, said. “I’ve seen the process. I’ve been up there. I know what it’s like and that’s why I think I’m better qualified.”

A firefighter like his father, Alonzo spent his first four years in the district, later graduating from Jefferson High School. He took some courses at Alamo College and Tarrant Junior College before joining the San Antonio Fire Department.

Ten years ago, he took on the role of legislative director after stints as district steward, second vice president and serving on the public relations committee for the union. He’s also acted as United Way Coordinator for the City of San Antonio.

He too cited traffic problems as a number one concern from his perspective as a firefighter, Alonzo noted that traffic “impacts ordinary residents, costing productivity, tying up resources of small businesses and limiting the ability of emergency services to reach people in need.”

He expressed support for using roughly $4 billion from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund – better known as the “Rainy Day Fund” – to meet some of the unmet transportation and education needs. The fund is currently projected to reach $11.1 billion by 2017.

Fourth candidate and Republican-running-as-a-Democrat David Rosa did not respond to the author’s request for an interview, so three out of four is what you get. Not a whole lot of substantive difference between them, which isn’t too surprising. I personally think dedicating a portion of sales taxes specifically to transportation is a silly idea – if the Legislature wants to spend more money on transportation, it can appropriate more money to transportation; specific-purpose dedications like that are why they engage in so many budgetary hijinx every two years, which the rest of us then sniff at indignantly – but that seems to be the flavor of the session, so there you go. Any fireworks in this race will likely occur during a runoff, which is the odds-on outcome given the number of candidates and the lack of a clear frontrunner. Anyone from San Antonio want to weigh in on the choice in this race?

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.

Four file for HD124

Really, truly, hopefully the last special legislative election this year. This session, anyway.

Sen. Jose Menendez

Four Democrats officially are in the running for Texas House District 124, the Bexar County seat that opened up with José Menéndez’s promotion last month to the upper chamber.

Candidates for the March 31 special election to replace the San Antonio Democrat include firefighter Nathan Alonzo, former San Antonio City Councilmember Delicia Herrera and attorney Ina Minjarez. Rounding out the ballot is David Rosa, an independent insurance agent who unsuccessfully ran in 2012 as a Republican against U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.

[…]

Early voting in HD 124 runs from March 23 through March 27.

In other words, the same four candidates that had emerged last week, when Sen. Menendez was sworn in, though with David Rosa apparently switching teams. This Gilbert Garcia column has the most information about the candidates so far. A little Googling around gives me the following:

– Delicia Herrera’s personal Facebook page shows that VoteDelicia.com will be her campaign website, but it doesn’t appear to be up right now. She has a campaign Facebook page and Twitter feed from her aborted 2012 run for HD125. I presume either that they will be updated or a new ones will be created.

Nathan Alonzo has his webpage up. His campaign Facebook page is here

– Ina Minjaerz does not have a campaign webpage yet, but she does have a campaign Facebook page and a Twitter feed.

– David Rosa also has a campaign Facebook page from 2012, when he ran for Congress against Rep. Joaquin Castro. Here’s a story from that in case you’re interested.

We’re already less than two weeks away from the start of early voting, so to say the least this campaign will be a mad sprint, likely followed by an intense runoff. Don’t be surprised if the turnout in the runoff is higher, either. In the meantime, if anyone has any insights on these four, please leave a comment. Thanks.

UPDATE: Gilbert Garcia’s column on David Rosa and his cynical part-switching gambit is worth a read.

Menendez sworn in

We’re back at full strength in the Senate.

Sen. Jose Menendez

José Menéndez became San Antonio’s newest state senator in a ceremony Monday that featured the Alamo City Democrat taking the oath of office and urging his new colleagues in the upper chamber to chart a bipartisan course regardless of what “political price may come.”

In a 10-minute address to a packed Senate chamber, Menéndez waxed personal at times, reflecting on his experience growing up as a child born to two immigrants and who started kindergarten without knowing how to speak English.

But the thrust of his messaging revolved around the idea of lawmakers from both parties coming together to improve the state.

“I’m here to say that I’m ready to work with each and every one of you,” said Menéndez, who was sworn in by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia. “I rarely care or worry about what’s your party politics what I worry about and care about is what’s in your heart.”

He later added: “It is our duty as elected officials not only to defend the Constitution … we have to be there to make the tough decisions for the right reason. Sometimes it’s easier for us to make votes that are politically correct, to say things that are politically correct. And that’s why sometimes I think people loose faith in what we do.”

PDiddie notes that the kerfuffle over how Menendez won is still active, with Menendez’s opponent, Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer penning a piece in the Quorum Report laying out the argument about Republican voters affecting the outcome. I’ve said my piece on that. and don’t plan to say any more. We will literally never see an election like that again, and I see no reason to dwell on it.

Of greater interest to me is that we now have a date for what should really, truly be the last special election of this cycle, in HD124, which has now been vacated by Sen. Menendez. It’s been set for March 31, with early voting from the 23rd to the 27th. As expected with such a short turnaround time, candidates have begun to emerge.

Delicia Herrera won’t have to crash at a friend’s pad during this election cycle.

Herrera, a former two-term councilwoman, is one of four declared candidates for the District 124 Texas House seat that opened up two weeks ago when the district’s long-time representative, José Menéndez, won a special-election runoff for the Texas Senate. Herrera was one of the jubilant supporters who stood by Menéndez’s side at his victory party on February 17.

Three years ago, Herrera had her eye on a legislative seat, but encountered a slight inconvenience.

Her home at SW 39th Street was located in District 124, but that legislative seat was occupied by Menéndez, an incumbent who already had nearly a decade under his belt and showed no signs of political vulnerability. But Herrera’s home was just outside the boundary line for District 125, and that West Side seat had opened up, because Joaquin Castro was stepping down to run for Congress.

So Herrera claimed the Northwest Side home of her former campaign treasurer — about nine miles north of her own house — as her residence, even as she admitted to the San Antonio Express-News that she continued to receive her mail and keep her dogs and “stuff” at the 39th Street house.

[…]

Ina Minjarez, 39, a local attorney who spent the first six years of her legal career working as a prosecutor, has made two bids for the County Court at Law No. 5 bench.

Nathan Alonzo, 52, is the lone declared candidate who has yet to appear on an election ballot, but he’s a familiar name to local politicos.

The legislative director for the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, Alonzo can make the case that his years of lobbying have given him the deepest understanding of the state legislative process of any candidate in the race.

I’ll be very interested to hear more about these candidates. If any locals want to chime in on them, please do so. The Rivard Report has more.

More thoughts on the special election results

There has been very little news about the four legislative special elections that were decided last week, other than the brief hubbub over what the result in SD26 meant. Among other things, I’ve been looking for any kind of reporting on the results in the other three races, as well as on the fact that there will need to be yet another special election to fill Sen.-elect Jose Menendez’s seat in HD124. This Trib story about Sen. Leticia Van de Putte’s upcoming departure from the upper chamber to focus on her race for Mayor of San Antonio contains the first tidbit of news concerning any of that I’ve seen:

Sen.-elect José Menéndez, who was on the floor on Tuesday, won the race for Van de Putte’s Senate seat on Feb. 17 and is set to be sworn in on March 5.

Sen. Jose Menendez

RG Ratcliffe also wrote about VdP’s good-bye if you want more of that. Me, I want more on the other stuff. If Menendez won’t be seated will next Thursday, that means the clock won’t start ticking for a special election to be called in HD124 until then. That puts such an election in April at least, and unless someone wins it outright it pretty much guarantees that whoever succeeds Menendez won’t be seated until there’s precious little left to do in this session. That said, there will almost surely be a special election sometime next year to (one hopes) fix school finance, so the stakes will still be as high as ever. I have not seen any names floating around as possible candidates for HD124, so if you know something I don’t know, please leave a comment and enlighten us.

One thing I’d like to add to my earlier commentary on the SD26 runoff: As much as I downplayed the pronouncements about that election being “decided” by Republican voters and bad actors like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, there is no question that some number of Republicans voted in that runoff. And why shouldn’t they? This wasn’t a primary, and the winner would be representing them, too. You may recall that just because the Houston City Council At Large #3 runoff in 2013 was between two Republicans doesn’t mean Democrats weren’t involved or courted by both sides. Quite the contrary, in fact. Some number of Republicans voted in the SD26 runoff. It’s likely that they went heavily for Menendez, and it’s entirely possible that they made up a good chunk of his margin of victory, if not all of it. The problem with making statements about this is that we have no “normal” election to compare this one to. For all we know, the number of Republicans voting in that runoff was about what it should have been expected to be. We don’t know, because the conditions for this election were unique, and will never be replicated. We can compare November elections, in Presidential years and not, and make statements about the partisan mix and whether a given cycle was remarkable in some way. We can’t do that here because there’s no other election like it. It stands on its own.

As for the other elections, however you feel about SD26 I think you should consider the election of Diego Bernal in HD123 a reason to celebrate. Bernal is like Rep. Martinez-Fischer in style and tenacity, and will be a more progressive voice in that district than Mike Villarreal, who cast himself as a moderate, business-friendly type. Having said that, I should note that Villarreal was in many ways “conservative” the way Menendez was “conservative”. It shows up much more in tone and rhetoric than it does in voting records. Villarreal’s record, at least in 2013, compares quite well – an A+ from Equality Texas, a 93% from the TLCV, and another nice, round zero from Texas Right to Life. Villarreal was more business-friendly, and I’m sure his fans and detractors could point to some votes he made that stood out from the caucus. His style is not like Diego Bernal’s has been, and especially if you were a TMF supporter in this special election, that should make you feel good.

The HD17 runoff was in a way a mirror image of the SD26 runoff, with the candidate who emphasized his crossover appeal emerging as the winner. That was a much closer election, and I have to wonder if the TLR crowd regrets not going all in on it. If John Cyrier had lost after running that campaign and being the big leader in round one, the articles about What It All Means pretty much write themselves. I’m a little surprised no one has taken this race and used it to run with a “Republican moderation” narrative. Assuming he doesn’t get primaried out in 2016, Cyrier ought to have a bright future under Speaker Straus.

And as for HD13, it remains as under-reported and mysterious as ever. Here’s a little factoid for you to consider: Rep.-elect Leighton Schubert defeated runnerup Carolyn Bilski in all but two counties in the runoff. One of them was Austin County, where Bilski had previously served as County Judge. Bilski had won a clear majority in Austin County in January, against three opponents. Schubert doubled his vote total in Austin County in a month, and it was enough to slip past her there. How in the world did that happen? Even more remarkable is the margin in Burleson County, Schubert’s home, which he won by the ridiculous total of 1,181 to 72. That’s the kind of margin you expect to see in a race featuring a major party candidate against a Green or Libertarian. Schubert won Burleson big in January as well, but with 75% of the vote, not almost 95%. Again, how does that happen? It sure would be nice if some professional reporter tried to figure that out.

Views differ on SD26

From Campos.

Before the State Senate District 26 Special started, Rep. José Menéndez and fellow Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer were both good elected officials and good Democrats. This morning they are still good elected officials and good Democrats. Somebody had to win.

I have to admit I was kind of surprised with last night’s results. I guess Sen.-Elect Menéndez ran a better and smarter campaign.

Then this was tweeted last night:


I don’t know if the media is saying it was a Dem loss. I think some Dem activists might be saying it was a Dem loss. You can’t deny that the Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) folks are feeling pretty good this morning. TLR racked up a decisive victory in Dem territory.

And then this tweet from Harold Cook:


How about played better and smarter?

Who might be saying it was a Dem loss? Well, BOR for one.

Sen. Jose Menendez

Last night, State Rep. Jose Menendez scored what has largely been viewed as an upset over State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, winning 59% to 41% in a special election to replace Senator Leticia Van de Putte in SD-26.

While Menendez and Martinez Fischer have both held office as Democrats and ran for the Senate as the same, Menendez’s win has been credited in part to his support from GOP voters and groups that traditionally back Republicans.

Martinez Fischer led going into the runoff by 18%, after 19,019 votes were cast in the first round in January. Curiously, more votes were cast in the run-off for a total of 23,523, which saw Menendez go from 4,824 votes good for 25.36% to 13,888 votes amounting to 59% of the tally while Martinez Fischer increased his share from 8,232 votes to 9,635 in the run-off.

So how did Menendez do it? Apparently, with Republican support.

Christopher Hooks and Ross Ramsey also buy into this logic. I don’t know about that. Remember, SD26 wasn’t the only runoff in San Antonio on Tuesday. HD123 was also happening. That district is almost entirely within SD26. If there was an unusual influx of Republican turnout in SD26, you’d think it might have had an effect on the HD123 race as well. Except that while Sen. Menendez was clobbering TMF, Diego Bernal was outperforming President Obama by three points, in a district that’s actually a teeny bit less Democratic than SD26 overall and a special election runoff, which as both Hooks and Ramsey note had lousy turnout. If there were a disproportionate number of Republicans voting in the SD26 race, why doesn’t it show up in the HD123 race as well? Does it make sense that all these Republican voters would also support Diego Bernal, an unabashed liberal whose opponent had Greg Abbott campaigning for him? It doesn’t to me. Yet none of the writers advancing the “Menendez won with GOP support” theory even mentions HD123. Sorry, but you all get an “incomplete” on that assignment. Get back to me when you’ve addressed all the evidence.

As for Menendez being more “conservative” than average, according to Mark Jones’ magic formula, I have to ask: Can someone point me to a single consequential bill, on a subject Democratic voters care about, in which Menendez was an outlier? I’m sure something exists, but we all know who the troublemakers have been in the caucus, and Menendez’s name is not one that usually comes up. He voted against the sonogram bill in 2011. He scored a 92% on the 2013 TLCV scorecard, which was not only slightly above the Democratic average of 91%, it was also higher than TMF’s score of 86%. (The difference was a vote on SB 219, House Amendment #2: Resign to Run.) He got an A on the 2013 Equality Texas scorecard, same as TMF. He scored a nice, fat zero on the 2013 Texas Right to Life scorecard. He went to Ardmore in 2003. What am I missing here? Yes, TMF is loud and proud, and the Republicans justifiably hated him. But what are the substantive differences between them? That’s what I care about, and as far as I can tell no one can say what it is.

(OK, I can think of one difference: Labor. The Texas AFL-CIO supported TMF over Menendez in the race. I couldn’t find a scorecard for them, so I can’t quantify the difference. I can, however, quote from Ed Sills’ daily email from last night: “Menendez is no foe of labor – not by a long shot – and we don’t expect him to become one as a Senator. The Texas AFL-CIO raised no criticism of Menendez during the campaign; our materials were a positive promotion of the Martinez Fischer candidacy. We wish Sen.-elect Menendez well as he crosses over to the east side of the dome.” So again I ask: Where’s the beef?)

My point is that it’s not like the Dems just elected an Allan Ritter, or a pinche cabron like Aaron Pena. Honestly, the whole reason why this campaign – much like the one in SD06 in 2013 – was nasty and personal and not about actual issues is because there isn’t that much substantive difference between the two. I’m going to refer you to Jonathan Tilove for a good view on what happened in this race.

A lot of charges and counter charges were swapped between the old friends, but in the end, the terms of engagement, and what separated the two, was generally agreed upon and revolved around their opposite political temperaments, and the political posture Democrats – and particularly Hispanic Democrats – ought to strike in a state where they are now, but not likely forever, on the outs.

[…]

TMF is a talented politician. He has proved to be an important figure in the workings of the House, where he will remain. It would have been something beyond kabuki if he had landed in Dan Patrick’s Senate. This loss won’t kill him. All the greats – Nixon, Clinton, Obama – suffered devastating losses on their way to their destiny. He wants to play on the big stage. But the lesson of last night may be that, even on his home turf, his edges may be too rough, at least until the day that confrontational style demonstrably revs up Hispanic turnout.

That sounds right to me. And while TLR may have achieved their goal of making the Senate slightly more amenable to them, it will be a simple enough matter to keep track of Sen. Menendez’s actual votes, and challenge him in a Democratic primary if he loses his way. Which, to be clear, I don’t expect will be needed. My view is that Sen. Menendez did a better job turning out his voters, and won the argument about what style would better represent the district. And now we wait to see when the special election to fill his HD124 seat will be called and who will run for it.

Special election runoff results

Here you go, from the Secretary of State webpage.

SD26 Trey Martinez Fischer 9,623 40.95% Jose Menendez 13,888 59.04% HD123 Diego Bernal 5,170 63.66% Nunzio Previtera 2,950 36.33% HD13 Carolyn Cerny Bilski 4,763 42.85% Leighton Schubert 6,350 57.14% HD17 John Cyrier 4,149 52.06% Brent Golemon 3,820 47.93%

Sen. Jose Menendez

Here are stories from the Trib and Rivard Report. As usual, I can’t find a damn thing about HDs 13 or 17. I’ll do another Google News search today and see if anything comes up, and will either add them to this post or do a new one later.

Obviously, the biggest surprise to me is the Menendez/Martinez-Fischer result. I mean, I had suggested that Menendez take one for the team and drop out, in the face of TMF’s big lead and in the interest of getting the next special election, to fill the to-be-vacated legislative seat, done as quickly as possible. So it’s fair to say I didn’t see this coming. Maybe that TLR money made a difference, or maybe Menendez just had a better ground game in overtime. Either way, I congratulate Sen.-elect Jose Menendez, and apologize to him for my disturbing lack of faith.

Rep. Leighton Schubert

The other surprise is in HD13, where newcomer Leighton Schubert had an easy time of it against Carolyn Bilski. Schubert trailed by less than 11 points in Round One, and he had a decent grassroots fundraising base, so his win isn’t that big a surprise, but any time a newcomer defeats a seasoned veteran with broad establishment backing, it’s an upset. Congratulations, Rep.-elect Leighton Schubert.

HD123 was a satisfying result, with numbers that look like they likely would in a Presidential year. The first press release that hit my inbox after the polls closed was from the SEIU reveling in this outcome, and I join them in congratulating Rep.-elect Diego Bernal. I expect big things out of you, sir.

The result in HD17 is a good one, as anytime a less-conservative Republican beats a wingnut, it’s a victory. It was the one close race, and for a few moments there as the numbers trickled in it looked like it could have gone the other way, but in the end the better candidate won. Congratulations, Rep.-elect John Cyrier.

Finally, as you know, this isn’t quite the end of it. With his win, Sen. Menendez will vacate his seat in HD124, and you know what that means: One more special election, with a runoff a lively possibility to follow. At this point, I have no idea who might be lining up for that race. He or she may not get sworn in until there isn’t much left to do in the session, depending on when Greg Abbott sets the next election date and whether or not two rounds are needed. I will of course keep an eye on that. In the meantime, we can all take a breath. Congratulations again to all the winners. Get some sleep, and get ready to get to work.

Early voting is up in the special election runoffs

Make of that what you will.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

If three days of early voting are any indication, the tense runoff fight for the state Senate 26 seat between Trey Martinez-Fischer and José Menéndez is attracting more voters than cast ballots in the first round election on Jan. 6, the result of record spending in the campaign that has pitted two Bexar County Democratic members of the House against one another in the fight to succeed departing Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for mayor.

The Jan. 6 state Senate ballot included two Republicans, Alma Perez Jackson and Joan Pedrotti, and a third Democrat, Al Suarez. Voter turnout was a miserable 5%. The five candidates in the first round drew only 19,158 voters, including 8,215 early voters. Martinez-Fischer finished well ahead of Menéndez and the others with 8,231 votes, or 43.28%. Menéndez finished a distant second with 4,824 votes, or 25.37%.

Special elections seldom draw many voters, and in most cases, a runoff would draw even fewer voters with one party knocked off the ballot. This time it’s different. A total of 6,977 people voted in the first three days of early voting this week, which continues today and Friday. At the current pace, that would add up to more than 11,000 early votes, or a 35% increase in the early turnout. If the same increased turnout occurs on Election Day the race will draw more than 25,000 voters, still a low percentage of registered voters, but enough of an increase to suggest a tight race.

You know I can’t turn down an opportunity like that to do some number-crunching. I looked at all the special legislative elections that included runoffs since 2010. Here are their respective vote totals:

Election Total Runoff Pct ===================================== SD22 5/10 29,851 24,557 82.3 HD14 11/11 13,519 6,736 49.8 SD06 1/13 16,369 18,141 110.8 HD50 11/13 14,936 10,520 70.4 SD04 5/14 30,348 22,605 74.5

“Pct” is the ratio of runoff turnout to total Round One turnout. Note that two of these special elections coincided with regular November elections, so it’s not terribly surprising that those runoffs lagged the most. Note also that the special election in SD06 in 2013 to succeed the late Mario Gallegos had higher turnout in the runoff than it did in the first round. That’s also the only race among these that was between two prominent Democrats, and as is the case this year it featured a nasty, negative overtime period. Not enough data to draw a firm conclusion, but the parallels are easy enough to see.

Having said all that, I kind of buried the lede a bit.

The increased turnout appears to be driven by negative campaigning and the role of outside money that aims to rally Republicans to cross party lines and vote for Menéndez. What’s different about this race is the role the powerful Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), an ultra-conservative lobby, is playing, contributing more than $550,000 to finance broadcast ads and direct mail pieces attacking Martinez Fischer and supporting Menéndez. The Express-News reported Tuesday that more than $2.3 million has been spent on the race, including the TLR money that actually exceeds the $513,000 that Menéndez has spent to date.

[…]

Martinez-Fischer is a plaintiff’s lawyer and a vocal, at times coarsely spoken Mexican-American. He looks and sounds like a boxer. Menéndez, also a lawyer, is softer spoken and less combative. People who watch Austin politics more closely than I say newly elected Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick would prefer to keep Martinez-Fischer out of the Senate, which is now a bastion of ultra-conservative Republicans, who now outnumber Democrats 20-11. Regardless of the runoff outcome, the winner will be the least senior of the minority party, but Martinez-Fischer would be a thorn in Patrick’s side, while Menéndez has said he would cross party lines to try to be effective.

I’ve said all along that TMF was my preferred candidate in this race. I had and continue to have nothing against Menendez, and I seriously doubt he’d be any more supportive of the evil trolls that make up TLR if he wins than he was in the House. But maybe he’ll be a little more supportive of them than TMF would be, and a couple hundred thousand bucks isn’t even pocket change to these guys, so all in they go. (They were a presence in the SD06 race as well, much as head lice is a presence in most elementary schools.) The point I’m making here is that even though this runoff is to them a choice between two candidates with whom they have little in common, they didn’t sit it out. They picked their lesser evil and did what they do to support him, in the hope that if it pays off, they’ll have an ever-so-slightly better Senate from their perspective. Say what you want about these guys – and believe me, I think they’re a greedy, rapacious, destructive force, too – it’s hard to argue that their approach had been anything but a big success. There may be a lesson in there for us somewhere, I dunno.

Anyway. It’s hard to know what effect this may have on the HD123 runoff, as HD123 is almost entirely within SD26. Like SD26, most Dems won HD123 by about ten points in 2010, the main exceptions being Bill White, who won it by more than 20 points, and Barbara Radnofsky, who lost it by a half point to Greg Abbott. I expect Diego Bernal to win easily enough, but one should never take anything for granted. Get out there and vote if you didn’t already do so. As for HDs 13 and 17, other than this report on campaign finances in HD17, there’s precious little news out there. I’ll have final results when they come in.

Early voting for special election runoffs has begun

EarlyVoting

It began yesterday, but I forgot to queue up a post in time to mention it. Here’s some relevant information for those of you who need to get out and vote in one or more of these runoffs.

For SD26 and HD123, here are the Bexar County early voting locations. The Bexar County Elections page is here as well.

For HD17, here are the early voting locations for Bastrop County, Caldwell County, and Lee County. The Bastrop County Elections page is here, and they already have Election Day voting locations up as well. Both the Caldwell and Lee pages have early voting and election day locations. As for Karnes County and Gonzales County, you’ll need to call the elections administrators for information, as you had to do for the January election.

For HD13, here are the early voting locations for Burleson County, Colorado County, Fayette County, Grimes County, Lavaca County, and Washington County. All of those pages also have Election Day locations, except for Fayette and Washington. I could not find information for Austin County, so call the elections administrator there for the scoop.

Googling around on the candidates’ names, I found basically zero new information since the original election, except for a couple of stories relating to the SD26 runoff. The only endorsements I found, as was the case in January, was from the Express News, which reiterated their choices from the first round.

In the Senate race, we recommend Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer to replace mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte.

The district will be in good hands regardless of who wins the showdown between Martinez Fischer and Rep. José Menéndez. Both Democrats who have been in the House since 2001.

But Martinez Fischer’s strong leadership ability unequivocally makes him the right choice for the Senate.

[…]

We strongly encourage voters to cast their ballots for former City Councilman Diego Bernal, who faces Republican Nunzio Previtera.

Bernal represented San Antonio’s City Council District 1 from 2011 until resigning late last year to seek the House seat. During his tenure at City Hall, Bernal showed courage by successfully sponsoring a highly controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that provided new protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

The 38-year-old Bernal also played a lead role in creating an advisory panel to study the future of Alamo Plaza. The city has failed to nurture the downtown asset, and Bernal’s efforts have revived hope for real improvements. This is an issue of statewide importance.

They also had a recent story about how Bexar Dems are dismayed by the negativity in the all-Dem SD26 runoff. Those of us who remember the SD06 special election from two years ago feel their pain. I figure turnout will be less than or equal to the first round, so if you live in any of these districts, your vote counts for a lot. There are no Dems in either HD17 or HD13, but John Cyrier and Carolyn Bilski are backed by the Texas Parent PAC, and Cyrier’s opponent in particular is aligned with the likes of Empower Texans, so even without a home team there’s still a rooting interest. I’ll keep an eye on the voting as we go. The Rivard Report has more.

HD13 runoff date set

We are now all set on special election runoffs.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday scheduled a Feb. 17 runoff in the special election for Lois Kolkhorst’s old seat in the Texas House.

Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski and Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert — both Republicans — were the top two finishers in the Jan. 13 special election to replace Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican. Last year, she won a promotion to the upper chamber, vacating her seat in House District 13, which includes parts of seven counties west of the Houston area.

Early voting in the HD13 runoff has been set for Feb. 9-13.

See here for the first round result in HD13. This means that all four runoffs are now scheduled for the same date, which makes the most sense. I presume the delay in adding this runoff to the calendar was because it hadn’t been canvassed yet. I approve of the quick turnaround, and I hope the special election that will be needed to succeed either Trey Martinez-Fischer or Jose Menendez in San Antonio gets the same consideration. On that note, the Express News’ Gilbert Garcia identifies MALDEF attorney Marisa Bono as a likely candidate in HD116 if TMF is the runoff winner. I can’t see the story, so I can’t tell you more than that (Ms. Bono is on Twitter, if you’re interested), but I’m sure we’ll start to hear about who might be interested in either of those seats soon enough. If we do get the kind of short turnaround I’m hoping for, they’ll need to hit the ground running.

First three runoff dates are set

Greg Abbott completes a bit of business left to him by Rick Perry.

Diego Bernal

Diego Bernal

Gov. Greg Abbott has scheduled runoffs from the Jan. 6 special elections for Feb. 17, according to his office.

The decision officially sets head-to-head match-ups in state Senate District 26, state House District 17 and state House District 123. Early voting in the runoffs will be held from Feb. 9-13.

In SD 26, two Democrats — Trey Martinez Fischer and Jose Menendez — are facing off for the seat being vacated by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. In HD 17, Republicans John Cyrier and Brent Golemon are vying to replace Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington. And in HD 123, Democrat Diego Bernal is up against Republican Nunzio Previtera for the seat formerly held by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

As you may recall from the January 6 election, TMF, Bernal, and Cyrier all led in their races, each collecting at least 43% and leading by a minimum of 18 points. No lead is ever insurmountable in a runoff, but I’d have to make them all strong favorites. Cyrier and Bernal are endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC, while Bernal and TMF have the backing of the San Antonio Central Labor Council and Texas AFL-CIO COPE. Bernal’s opponent in particular is a nut, so I especially look forward to him winning.

This means that the runoff for the HD13 special election will be scheduled separately, presumably a week later. Seems to me it would have made more sense to put all four of them together, but I guess that election hadn’t been canvassed yet. I’ll keep my eyes open for that announcement. The Rivard Report has more.

More on the three legislative runoffs

From the Chron/Express News on the Bexar County races.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

In the Senate contest, Martinez Fischer and Menéndez, both D-San Antonio, are vying to replace District 26 state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who’s exiting the Legislature to run for mayor of San Antonio.

“I think I’m in a very good spot,” Martinez Fischer said late Tuesday, adding he reserved funds to wage a competitive runoff race. Menéndez finished nearly 20 percentage points behind Martinez Fischer, who was targeted for defeat by Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

“Now it’s a brand new race,” Menéndez said.

In the race to replace another San Antonio mayoral candidate, state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, the two top vote-getters were former Councilman Diego Bernal and Republican Nunzio Previtera, who serves on the State Republican Executive Committee.

Bernal, a civil rights attorney, missed an outright victory by a handful of percentage points. Previtera, an insurance firm owner in his first bid for office, trailed in second place with about half the votes that Bernal had garnered.

The two rose from a crowded six-candidate field that included two other Democrats – Melissa Aguillon and Walter Martinez. Libertarian Roger Gary and Green Party candidate Paul Ingmundson accounted for less than 3 percent of the overall vote.

Bernal said he and his team would soon regroup to build a game plan for the runoff election. On Tuesday, he offered thanks to those who pushed him to the No. 1 spot.

“I’m humbled by the support I’ve received. I’m almost embarrassed by the amount of work people have put in on my behalf,” he said. “Honestly, it always felt very competitive and I am proud of the work I’ve done with the community, and I plan to do more when I’m a state representative.”

Previtera said campaigning for the runoff starts Wednesday.

“I think we have a very good opportunity to win a runoff election,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is the voters in HD 123 are not like the voters all across the city.”

Many of the district’s residents, he said, make less than $30,000 a year and share the same core values as the GOP – they just don’t know it. Voters there cast ballots for Democrats because that’s what their parents did, Previtera said.

“They don’t realize that many of them, if their parents were still alive today, they’d be voting Republican,” he said.

By law, the runoff must take place within 45 days of the results being canvassed, which in practice should mean by February 21. As I said before, there’s a case to be made for Rep. Menendez to drop out instead of going to the runoff. Menendez trails TMF by about 18 points, which isn’t insurmountable – Borris Miles trailed Al Edwards 48.18 to 32.76 in the 2006 Democratic primary for HD146 and won in the runoff – but it’s a steep hill to climb, especially given that the bulk of the remaining votes went to the two Republican candidates. Menendez could try to persuade some Republicans that he’d be better for them in SD26 than TMF would be, not an unreasonable argument but one that must be made delicately if one doesn’t want to piss off one’s own base. He could try to bring back more of his voters to the runoff than TMF does, and he could try to bring out some folks who didn’t participate in Round One, which might be doable now that the holidays are over. Maybe.

You have to weigh the odds of success against the stark reality of the calendar: The day after the runoff there’s another legislative vacancy that would need to be filled. That special election would likely be at the end of March, and if there’s a runoff needed, which seems like a good bet, it might not happen till the first week of May or so. Against that, if Menendez concedes and TMF resigns his legislative seat to move up, the special election in HD116 would likely be in early to mid-February, with a runoff in mid to late March. That’s a big difference in terms of when a lot of the action happens, and when a lot of key votes need to be cast. If we want to beat back regressive constitutional amendments, we will need all hands on deck.

I recognize that what I’m saying here is that Rep. Menendez might consider taking one for the team. I want to be clear that he is in no way obligated to do so. If he believes, as I’m sure he does, that he has a path to victory, then by all means he should fight on. I have nothing but respect for Rep. Menendez and wish him good luck. For better or worse, the calendar is what it is. It could be a factor in how this session plays out. I feel it is worthwhile to point that out.

As for the HD123 runoff, putting aside Previtera’s adorable invocation of that old Reagan chestnut about Latinos being Republicans that just haven’t figured it out yet, I would note that 75% of the vote cast in that race was for Democrats. Good luck finding a way to 50% plus one with that.

Meanwhile, in HD17:

Cyrier and Golemon might be from the same party, but they come from different corners of the GOP.

Cyrier, who started the contracting firm Sabre Commercial and who served on the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court, boasts the support of some Democrats and says he is ready to reach across the aisle to govern.

Meanwhile, Golemon sees himself as the more conservative choice, he said. An entrepreneur and the son of a high-dollar lobbyist, Golemon doesn’t have a record to run on, but his campaign consultant, Luke Macias, has a reputation for helping to elect some of the Legislature’s most conservative and tea party-backed members.

Both Golemon and Cyrier have said they would focus on protecting water resources in the district, if elected.

Golemon’s website says he also wants to pass legislation dealing with education, securing the border, advancing Second Amendment rights and opposing the Affordable Care Act.

Cyrier’s other priorities include improving the state transportation system and funding public education, he said.

Like I said, not a pickup opportunity, but it’s clear what the better outcome is at this point. Now we await word of the runoff date.

All special elections will go to runoffs

From the Bexar County Elections webpage:

STATE SENATOR, DISTRICT 26 VOTE FOR 1 Votes Pct (WITH 322 OF 322 PRECINCTS COUNTED) Al Suarez (DEM) . . . . . . . . 644 3.39 Alma Perez Jackson (REP) . . . . . 3,892 20.46 Joan Pedrotti (REP) . . . . . . . 1,427 7.50 Jose Menendez (DEM) . . . . . . . 4,824 25.37 Trey Martinez Fischer (DEM) . . . . 8,231 43.28 STATE REPRESENTATIVE, DISTRICT 123 VOTE FOR 1 Votes Pct (WITH 96 OF 96 PRECINCTS COUNTED) Roger V. Gary (LIB) . . . . . . . 103 1.45 Melissa Aguillon (DEM) . . . . . . 1,257 17.69 Diego Bernal (DEM) . . . . . . . 3,372 47.46 Walter Martinez (DEM) . . . . . . 780 10.98 Nunzio Previtera (REP) . . . . . . 1,512 21.28 Paul Ingmundson (GRN) . . . . . . 81 1.14

So it’s TMF versus Menendez in SD26, and Diego Bernal versus Nunzio Previtera in HD123. One could make a case for Menendez to drop out, so that the inevitably vacant legislative seat, presumed to be TMF’s given his advantage in Round One, can be filled as quickly as possible. I don’t know if anyone will make that case, and even if someone does I don’t know that Menendez would, or should, be receptive to it. He isn’t trailing by that much, though his path to victory isn’t clear. I expect there will be a runoff, followed by that inevitable subsequent special election. We’ll see. As for HD123, a solid showing by Bernal. I like his chances in the runoff there.

And for HD17, from the Secretary of State:

State Representative District 17 Votes Pct Shelley Cartier DEM 290 3.80% Linda Curtis IND 1,046 13.71% John Cyrier REP 3,515 46.10% Brent Golemon REP 1,866 24.47% Ty McDonald DEM 907 11.89%

And it’s Cyrier versus Golemon, so no pickup opportunity. Cyrier is the ParentPAC candidate, so if you want to root for someone, he’s the choice. Runoffs should be in about six weeks. I’ll have more in the next day or so.

Special elections roundup

I haven’t seen any newspaper endorsements in the special elections that will conclude on Tuesday. I can tell you that the Texas Parent PAC has endorsed Diego Bernal in HD123 and John Cyrier in HD17. In the absence of further endorsements to report on, here’s a news roundup based on Google searches of the various candidates.

In SD26, it’s all about the money.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

A powerful special interest group that has contributed millions of dollars mostly to state Republicans over the years is targeting Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer’s bid to fill a vacant Senate seat.

And now Martinez Fischer is attempting to draw connections between the group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and his main opponent in the race, Democratic state Rep. José Menéndez.

TLR is the richest and most influential tort reform group in the state, and its political action committee has already spent close to $180,000 to influence Tuesday’s special election in District 26, state records show. That includes research and polling, along with TV ads and mailers blasting Martinez Fischer.

In a campaign memo released Wednesday, Martinez Fischer leveled his strongest public accusations to date about links to the group and Menéndez, claiming the head of TLR has personally made calls to help Menéndez and to “thwart” Martinez Fischer’s own fundraising efforts.

Martinez Fischer, in the memo, goes on to note that TLR contract lobbyist Ed Lopez was named earlier this month as part of the Menéndez finance team and then claims another unnamed lobbyist working for the group recently held a fundraiser for Menéndez.

[…]

“In my estimation, José’s relationship with TLR is obvious,” Martinez Fischer says in the memo.

On Wednesday, Menéndez remained steadfast that he’s not in cahoots with the group.

“It is obvious to me that Trey is desperate to try to create a connection between TLR and myself that doesn’t’ exist,” he said. “We’re running our campaign, and we’re not in a position that we feel like we need any help from outside sources.”

Menéndez also said that Lopez, the TLR lobbyist Martinez Fischer cited in his memo, is a personal friend dating back to his days on San Antonio City Council, and that “he’s a supporter of mine because he believes in me as a person.”

TMF has greatly outraised Menendez, though a lot of his donations have been non-local. Both candidates are spending heavily on TV ads. When the first order of business is to make sure people are aware that there is an election going on in the first place, you do what you have to do.

Meanwhile, the candidates in HD123 are trying to be heard over that volume.

The ballot includes three Democrats: businesswoman Melissa Aguillon, former San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal, and Walter Martinez, also a former city councilman, who served in the Texas House in the ’80s.

The lone Republican is insurance agent Nunzio Previtera. Clinical psychologist Paul Ingmundson is the Green Party candidate, while Libertarian Roger Gary rounds out the ballot.

Gary, like the others, has education reform high on his list. He wants to get back to the basics, like, he says, teaching basic math. ”I’ve asked some other people who say they’re doing it all on computers; people’s grammar and spelling and math, let’s get back to those basics. That’s what we need. The rest of the stuff they’re squabbling about, what’s in a high school history book? Well, who cares if they can’t read and write.”

Republican Nunzio Previtera wants schools to put as much emphasis on vocational training as they do on college preparation. “The primary goal of our school system needs to be to provide our students with opportunities to prosper as working adults, get them ready to be adults. Our magnet schools have done a pretty good job, but they need to be expanded, and our primary schools need to put a lot more emphasis on vocational skills and training people for their adult life.”

Paul Ingmundson went to UT Austin, where he paid $50 a semester. He says college tuition today is outrageous. He wants the first two years of college to be free. He’d pay for that by taxing oil and gas producers. “We can address the fossil fuel problem and the education problem with one policy change. I think even Republicans are going to start to get used to this. They are going to look around for money, and if you’re going to look around for money, the deepest pockets are in the oil and gas fields.” 


More affordable higher education and technical training are also high on the agendas of Democrats Melissa Aguillon and Walter Martinez.

“It was challenging for my parents to put me through college,” says Aguillon. “I actually had to pretty much fund my own college tuition, and so, I want to make sure that higher education is accessible for all students that want to go to college.” But she adds, there are far more career paths available to those students now, and far more jobs being created, “21st century jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year education.”

“I think it’s important that the necessary skills for trades are also accessible to them,” says Aguillon. Fellow Democrat Martinez agrees, and adds, “The delivery and implementation of workforce training, also providing technical training, to be able to provide the workforce that modern technology requires, those are all part of the agenda as far as supporting public education.”

Democrat Diego Bernal says the first bill he’d file would overhaul the way the state decides how much money each school district will receive. “The very first one I would file would have to do with public education and the formula that we use to pay for students who are either economically disadvantaged or English language learners. There’s a formula they use to give districts extra money and that formula hasn’t been updated since the mid-’80s. So if you want to know what my very first attempt at a bill would be, that would be it.”

Here’s an Express News overview of this race. The SA Current did Q&As with four of the candidates in the HD123 race – with Diego Bernal, Melissa Aguillon, Walter Martinez, and Roger Gary. They also profiled Bernal and noted that Aguillon had received financial support from a Georgia-based auto title loan business owner.

As for HD17, news is a lot harder to find. What little I have is from the Gonzalez Inquirer. Here’s their overview of the race:

Republican candidate John Cyrier, 41, of Lockhart, was in town Monday morning for a brief rally at the Roger M. Dreyer Memorial Airport to kick off early voting. He arrived by air in his Cessna Skylane II— which appropriately sported the colors red, white and blue.

[…]

The other Republican in the race, Brent Golemon, 46, of Bastrop, got a taste of politics early in life. Golemon worked as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff at the capitol after graduating Hampden-Sydney College while his father was a 35-year lobbyist in Austin.

Golemon co-founded GalleryWatch, the nation’s first online legislative tracking service in 1996, which was sold eight years later. His current occupation is listed as “entrepreneur.”

The closest Golemon gets to an elected office credential is a stint on the Tahitian Village Property Owners Association and a board appointment to the Bastrop County Water District. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching six-man football at a Christian-based athletics program for home-schooled and private school families.

The first of two Democrats on the ballot is Ty McDonald, 43, also of Bastrop. She is a 1993 graduate of Texas A&M University and is married to former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald.

McDonald’s early education into elected public service was as legislative director for State Rep. Yvonne Davis in the early 90s. She also served as campaign coordinator for John Sharp during his failed bid for comptroller.

After serving as a public school teacher for seven years, she was elected to a single term to the board of the Bastrop Independent School District. Her last year was served as president of that body.

After flirting with a run for state rep earlier this year, McDonald switched races to challenge incumbent Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. She lost that contest in November.

The other Democrat is Shelley Cartier, 51, yet another candidate from the Bastrop area. Her business card describes her as a non-politician and small business owner.

On the issues, she supports local control and small growth. Public education is also in her platform and she says she is a “defender of property and water rights for all.”

In her spare time she advocates for the humane treatment of animals and hosts several rescue horses on her property.

Rounding out the list is the lone Independent candidate, Linda Curtis, 63, the final Bastrop resident. Her tagline is “If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em!”

They also have a profile of Cyrier.

Cyrier hails from Caldwell County where he and his wife Rachelle live on a ranch south of Lockhart. His political fact sheet touts many accomplishments for the 42 year-old—successful businessman, past county commissioner and former commander of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band. He now wishes to be State Representative for District 17, which includes Gonzales County.

His business career began after he received a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Texas A&M University. A couple of stops in the general contracting business and branch office management led him to launch Sabre Commercial, Inc. in 2008, a commercial construction services company specializing in general contracting. It employs 51 people and has won numerous distinctions from the Austin Business Journal including a nomination for Best CEO Award in September.

“I surround myself with good people and I take care of them,” said Cyrier. The good working morale has led Sabre to three top-10 “Best Places to Work in Central Texas” designations from the Journal.

Cyrier’s political career began in 2010. There was a vacancy on the commissioner’s court in Caldwell County and longtime County Judge H.T. Wright, Jr., a Democrat, picked Cyrier based on his community accomplishments. The judge knew that he would take heat for the appointment since Cyrier was a Republican, but he saw a need to balance the court and invite all ideas to the table.

Turns out that Cyrier was only the second Republican to ever hold a seat on the court. Party designation didn’t matter to most voters, for he was elected outright later that year by 60 percent of the ballots and was named Judge Pro-Tem in 2012.

“I loved being a county commissioner,” he said.

Cyrier decided to serve out his term but opted not to run in the general election in 2012. He figured that he could do just as much good for the community away from the commissioner’s court than he could on it. The list of boards on which he currently serves include: Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Caritas of Austin, Lockhart ISD Education Foundation, Caldwell County Republican precinct chair—and the list goes on — prove just that.

During the Thanksgiving holiday he received a call from Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt had resigned and the county’s leadership was looking for a candidate to promote. One GOP candidate had already popped up in Bastrop, but they were looking for something more. They believed that Cyrier had the vision to be the district’s next leader.

With the added urging of longtime Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett, Cyrier decided to run and continue his community service at the elected level. Soon he had a list of supporters that any candidate would envy.

There are three things that Cyrier lists as top priorities in the upcoming legislative session: education, water and infrastructure. Luckily for District 17, all three topics resonate throughout the five rural counties he would represent.

On education, Cyrier already counts superintendents from Bastrop, Smithville, Karnes, Lockhart, Gonzales and a host of other education professionals as supporting his candidacy.

He shows a strong command of the issues facing public schools in the state. His concerns are on elected officials that look to defund public education to send dollars elsewhere. Oftentimes school is the only place a child can eat a regular meal for breakfast, lunch— and more often now— even dinner.

Diverting public dollars would have an adverse affect on education, especially in communities like this one where the school system is the major employer. Cyrier looks to be a strong advocate for these independent school districts.

He also draws a parallel between the growth the district has seen based on underground resources—water to the north and oil to the south. Where Bastrop County has seen sprawl eat on its western flank, water developers look to siphon off the precious resource to far-flung housing developments throughout the I-35 corridor and down to San Antonio. Similar concerns can be seen here.

The other boom is down south with the shale explosion in the Eagle Ford. Gonzales County is experiencing growth and road degradation associated with this as is its neighbor to the south, Karnes County. Cyrier understands this and how public infrastructure funding is so important to the area.

Since all five counties in the district are still largely rural, he feels that the area shares the same challenges.

So there you have it. If you live in one of these districts, please make sure you vote.

Perry sets HD13 special election date

For all the writing I’ve done about the various legislative special elections, I’d almost forgotten that this one was still out there.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

Just hours after Lois Kolkhorst was sworn in as the newest state senator Monday, Gov. Rick Perry called a Jan. 13 special election to fill the Brenham Republican’s former seat in the Texas House.

At least three Republicans have already launched bids for House District 13: Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert and Becky Berger, a member of the Republican State Executive Committee. All of them announced they were interested in the seat before Kolkhorst’s victory earlier this month in the special election to replace Katy Republican Glenn Hegar, the incoming comptroller.

[…]

Perry has given prospective candidates a week to file applications for the HD13 special election with the secretary of state’s office. Early voting commences Jan. 5.

In other words, everything is exactly one week after the elections in HDs 17 and 123 and SD26. And as a reminder, if either Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer or Rep. Jose Menendez wins in SD26 – an outcome that seems highly likely now that Sylvia Romo has dropped out of the race, having been found to not be a resident of the district – we will need one more special election before the session is over. Via the Secretary of State, here are the candidate lists for each race:

SD26

Trey Martinez Fischer
Democrat

Alma Perez Jackson
Republican

Jose Menendez
Democrat

Joan Pedrotti
Republican

Al Suarez
Democrat

HD123

Melissa Aguillon
Democrat

Diego Bernal
Democrat

Roger V. Gary
Libertarian

Paul Ingmundson
Green

Walter Martinez
Democrat

Nunzio Previtera
Republican

HD17

Shelley Cartier
Democrat

Linda Curtis
Independent

John Cyrier
Republican

Brent Golemon
Republican

Ty McDonald
Democrat

As for HD13, that election was set shortly after Kolkhorst was sworn in as the new Senator from District 18, which triggered the vacancy there. I’ll keep an eye out for other candidates, but as I noted before, it’s considerably less hospitable to a Democratic candidate than HD17 is, so the best we can hope for is a non-crazy Republican. I expect there to be some interesting endorsement action in these races, with such short turnarounds and big rewards for hitting the jackpot. We’ll see how that goes as well.

UPDATE: The Express News has more on the Bexar County elections, while the Trib adds some details and another name to the HD13 lineup:

Republican Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, 61, is playing the experience card, hoping her 20 years as a county judge and eight years as a city council member will give her a leg up. “I think the voters deserve someone who has done research and solved problems,” said Bilski, who listed education and infrastructure as high-priority issues.

Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert, also a Republican, said he has worked for every level of government from federal to county. He said keeping Texas’ economy strong and fiscally conservative is his top priority, plus protecting private property rights. “Any issue starts with the economy,” Schubert said. “We got to help keep this economy moving — that helps from the top down.”

Becky Berger, Republican No. 3 and a geologist, has lost twice in Republican primary races for the Texas Railroad Commission.

Cecil Webster, a veteran who’s been active in Democratic politics in Fayette County for years, said restoring education funding would be one of his top priorities if he’s elected, and rejected the premise that the district is unwinnable for a Democrat. “I am convinced that if you look at the actual number of folks here, there are more blue folks then red folks,” Webster, 60, said. “Democrats just don’t vote.”

Good luck to you, sir. I can’t do the exact same calculations of the Democratic vote potential as I did in HD17 because Kolkhorst was unopposed in 2014 and 2012, but I can say there were 1,837 total Democratic primary votes in the 2014 Democratic primary in the seven counties that make up HD13, and 3,093 votes in the 2012 Dem primary. Bill White received 16,250 votes total in HD13 in 2010. Hope you can track those folks down for this race.

Overview of the Bexar County special legislative elections

From The Rivard Report:

Texas House District 123

Former District 1 City Councilmember Diego Bernal resigned his city seat in mid-November to launch his campaign for Villarreal’s former seat. His VoteDiego website offers voters his positions on a number of issues, ranging from education to civil rights.

Melissa Aguillon, a small business owner and the principal of Aguillon & Associates, a public relations and digital marketing firm, also is running. Her VoteAguillon website displays her digital media acumen, offering videos, her Twitter feed, Facebook feed, etc.

Former District 5 Councilmember Walter Martinez (1985-92) and the Texas House District 119 representative for a single term (1983-85) is making a run to regain elected office after a two-decade-plus hiatus that began with a failed bid to win a seat on Commissioners Court. Martinez apparently does not have a campaign website.

Republican candidate Nunzio Previtera, with Integrity Insurance Agency in San Antonio, jumped into the race this week. His campaign website lists his support for small business, job growth and his pro-life position.

Libertarian candidate Roger Gary, who apparently sought his party’s nomination for president in 2012, also is running. He does not have a campaign website.

Click here to see a map of District 123, which extends from the Southside through the central city and north in Castle Hills and part of the Northside.

Texas Senate District 26

This vacant seat has attracted two strong and respected state representatives among other candidates.

Disrtrict 116 state Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher and District 124 state Rep. José Menéndez are the two leading candidates for the seat.

Sylvia Romo, the former Bexar County tax assessor-collector who served two terms in the Texas House in the 190s and who lost a Democratic primary race against U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett in 2012, is looking to regain elected office.

Converse Mayor Al Saurez also is running for the seat as a long shot contender.

Here is a great map of the districts and the early voting locations within them. Early voting runs from December 29 through January 3, with a day off on January 1. Election Day will be January 6. Assume turnout will be low, so if you live in HD123 and/or SD26, your vote really counts.

These elections are important, especially the one in SD26 since Senate seats don’t have that much turnover, but please don’t get sucked into a narrative about it being some kind of proxy battle for the soul of the Texas Democratic Party. This is a low-turnout special election for a vacancy that no one knew would exist less than two months ago. It’s also no longer a straight-up battle between a liberal State Rep and a somewhat less liberal State Rep thanks to the entry of a third major candidate. Listen to the candidates and support whoever you think is the best choice. Don’t give a thought to what the nattering nabobs (of which I am one) think. But if you do care what I think, I’d vote for Trey Martinez-Fischer in SD26, and Diego Bernal in HD123. All due respect to Jose Menendez and Sylvia Romo, both of whom I think would be fine Senators, but TMF is my first choice, as is Bernal for the House. Just make sure you get out there and vote, in these races or in HD17, if you live in one of these districts.

UPDATE: Sylvia Romo has dropped out of the race for SD26 after it turned out out that she didn’t live in the district.

Romo to run in SD26

The race to succeed Sen. Leticia Van de Putte just got a little more interesting.

Sylvia Romo

Sylvia Romo

Sylvia Romo, former tax assessor-collector for Bexar County, on Tuesday morning entered the race to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, bringing to four the number of candidates in the special election for Senate District 26.

For two terms in the 1990s, Romo represented Texas House District 125, which covers a swath of northwest Bexar County. She unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett in the 2012 Democratic primary for Texas’ 35th congressional district.

“I am truly humbled by the bipartisan support from our community that has encouraged me to run for state senator,” Romo said in a news release. “As a mother and proud grandmother, I will stand up for Texas families, support small businesses, work to create high-paying jobs, and fight to give our children the chance to succeed.”

Romo joins three other Democrats vying for Van de Putte’s seat in the Jan. 6 contest: San Antonio state Reps. Jose Menendez and Trey Martinez Fischer as well as Converse Mayor Al Suarez.

See here for the background, and see here for Romo’s official announcement. Romo’s entry basically guarantees a runoff. What that means is that if one of the State Reps running for SD26 is the eventual winner, the special election to replace him would probably be in early March, with a runoff if needed in early April. That’s getting pretty close to the end of the session, and it could have an effect on the Dems’ ability to block noxious Constitutional amendments from being put on the ballot.

Be that as it may, Romo is certainly a qualified candidate. I interviewed her in 2012 when she was challenging Rep. Lloyd Doggett in CD35. I thought she would have been a perfectly acceptable Congressperson, with perfectly acceptable views, I just never could get a good answer from her as to why it made sense to swap out Doggett’s seniority and track record in favor of her candidacy. Here, seniority isn’t an issue, but there is another issue that I at least would consider if I lived in SD26. Both Reps. Martinez-Fischer and Menendez are in their 40s. Romo is, I believe, 71. My general preference these days when given a choice between otherwise similar candidates is to put a premium on youth and future statewide potential. TMF and Jose Menendez both strike me as someone who could run statewide in the next four to ten years if given a bigger springboard. I can’t honestly say that about Sylvia Romo. I’m not saying this is a decisive factor. If the campaign shows her to be the best choice, then she deserves to win. But at least for me, it would be a factor. Whether that’s true for anyone else or not, we’ll see. The filing deadline is Monday the 22nd, with early voting to begin on the 29th.

Legislative special elections set

Gear up quickly, here they come.

Mike Villarreal

Mike Villarreal

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday afternoon set three special elections for Jan. 6, including the race to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

Van de Putte, who lost her bid for lieutenant governor last month, is stepping down to run for mayor of San Antonio, leaving a vacancy in Senate District 26. State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, resigned earlier this month to also launch a campaign for City Hall, a move that created an open seat in House District 123.

In addition, Perry scheduled a special election for Jan. 6 in House District 17, where Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, is resigning to become general counsel for the Texas Department of Agriculture. The district covers a five-county area east of Austin.

Democrats have already lined up to vie for the two seats in solidly blue Bexar County. San Antonio State Reps. Jose Menendez and Trey Martinez Fischer as well as Converse Mayor Al Suarez are running to replace Van de Putte. Former San Antonio Councilmen Diego Bernal and Walter Martinez as well as public relations consultant Melissa Aguillon are competing for Villarreal’s House seat.

See here for the background. Al Suarez is a new name for the SD26 seat; Converse is a small town inside Bexar County, but beyond that I know nothing about him. I can’t find any news about potential candidates for Kleinschmidt’s seat – as you know, I’m rooting for a Democrat to file for it – but I’m sure we’ll hear something soon enough. I wasn’t expecting it to be part of this set, but it makes sense for it to be. If either Martinez-Fischer or Menendez wins in SD26 we’ll need one more special, and then I presume we’ll be done for the near term. The Current has more.