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Linda Koop

State House remembers it was going to do something about sexual harassment

It’s something.

Rep. Joe Straus

Months after reports detailed a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the state Capitol, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday announced another measure to address the issue.

Straus, a Republican who will retire early next year, created a work group to recommend additional steps to “prevent and eradicate” misconduct in the Legislature. The appointment of the group comes months after the House updated its sexual harassment policy following reports from The Texas Tribune detailing flaws in the former policy, which often left victims to fend for themselves. The Daily Beast had previously detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature.

“This is the next step in our effort to make sure that sexual harassment is not tolerated at the Texas Capitol,” Straus said in a news release.

In a news release, Straus said the group will review existing policies and research best practices from other states to ensure a safe environment. The co-chairs of the new group are state Reps. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, and Donna Howard, D-Austin. Other members are: state Reps. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson; Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Lina Ortega, D-El Paso; Abel Herrero, D-Robstown; Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress; Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston; and Gene Wu, D-Houston.

The House revised its policy in December to require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training. House leaders cannot require lawmakers to complete the training, but all current lawmakers took the online course this year.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, the House has still done more than the Senate has done. Putting this group together to do something is good. Having that group actually do something, something constructive, will be better. The Chron has more.

Still grappling with how to handle sexual harassment claims

I like the idea of putting the authority to investigate harassment claims in the Legislature into an independent body.

Calls for independence between sexual misconduct investigations and those in power have grown in recent months, and experts and several lawmakers agree that impartiality is crucial for building trust in a reporting system at the Capitol, where repercussions for elected officials are virtually nonexistent. But efforts to establish that independence — which could require officeholders to give up their current oversight over investigations — will likely face political challenges in persuading lawmakers to hand over power to a third party.

Any independent entity investigating sexual misconduct at the Capitol would need the power to truly hold elected officials accountable, several lawmakers and legal experts said. That could mean sanctions against officeholders that their colleagues may be unlikely to pursue.

“It cannot be officeholders policing officeholders,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who is among those calling for an independent investigative agency.

[…]

But to alleviate concerns with existing reporting procedures that leave investigations in the hands of elected officials, lawmakers have proposed several ways to establish what they say is needed independence in investigations. Those proposals range from a review panel that doesn’t include lawmakers to a new state entity comparable to the Texas Ethics Commission, which regulates political activities and spending.

The creation of an independent investigative body “is a necessary immediate step” for the Legislature to address skepticism in the current reporting system set up for sexual harassment victims, said Chris Kaiser, director of public policy and general counsel for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

“I don’t think that you have to impugn the work that any investigators are doing currently to accept the fact that that skepticism itself is preventing people from coming forward,” Kaiser said. “It’s really clear the Legislature has a lot of work to do to build trust.”

See here and here for some background. I will just say, if there is an independent body to handle these complaints, it has to be truly independent, by which I mean free from any legislative authority or meddling. I mean, the Texas Ethics Commission is an independent body, but it’s hardly a good role model for this sort of thing. I have a hard time imagining that happening, but if there’s enough of a shakeup in the composition of the Lege, there might be a chance. First and foremost, it needs to be an issue in the campaigns. I’m asking every candidate I interview about harassment and the institutional policies that deal with it. The more we talk about it, the better.

An early look ahead to the legislative races

The Trib takes a look at the legislative races that could end with a seat changing parties.

vote-button

• HD-23. Freshman state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Dickinson, against former state Rep. Lloyd Criss, R-La Marque.

• HD-43. State Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, will face Democratic challenger Marisa Yvette Garcia-Utley.

• HD-54. State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, decided not to seek reelection in a district where Republicans have only a narrow advantage over Democrats in presidential election years like this one. Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper apparently won the Republican runoff, but his 43-vote margin over Austin Ruiz has prompted a recount. The winner will face Democrat Sandra Blankenship in November.

• HD-78. State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, will contend with Jeffrey Lane, a Republican in a district where Democrats have demonstrated a slight advantage.

• HD-102. Freshman Rep. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, will face Democrat Laura Irvin.

• HD-105. State Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, currently holds this swing district. He’ll battle Democrat Terry Meza in November.

• HD-107. State Rep. Ken Sheets, R-Dallas, has fended off a series of challenges in his narrowly Republican district; this time, the chief opponent is Democrat Victoria Neave.

• HD-113. Like Sheets in the district next door, state Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, has a district where the incumbent is always under attack. Her Democratic opponent this time is Rhetta Andrews Bowers.

• HD-117. State Rep. Rick Galindo, R-San Antonio, is one of two House Republicans defending a district where Democrats generally win statewide races. He’ll face the guy he beat, former Rep. Philip Cortez, a Democrat, in November.

• HD-118. The other of those Republicans is John Luhan, also of San Antonio, who won a special election earlier this year to replace Democrat Joe Farias, who retired. He’ll face Democrat Tomás Uresti — the loser of that special election — in a November rematch.

• HD-144. State Rep. Gilbert Peña, R-Pasadena, represents a district that has gone for Republicans in some years and Democrats in others. And it’s another rematch: He will face former Rep. Mary Ann Perez, the Democrat who lost in 2014 by 152 votes out of 11,878 cast.

Several incumbents got free passes in districts where an able opponent might have been dangerous. In HD-34, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, drew no Republican challenger. In HD-45, Republican Jason Isaac didn’t draw a Democratic opponent.

That’s a pretty comprehensive list. Because I like numbers, I went and dug up the 2012 district results so you can get some idea of how steep a hill these are to climb for the Democrats:


Dist    Romney    Obama    Romney%   Obama%    Diff   Boost
===========================================================
023     31,282   25,365     54.56%   44.24%   5,917   23.3%
043     25,017   22,554     52.05%   46.92%   2,463   10.9%
054     25,343   21,909     52.90%   45.73%   3,434   15.7%
102     29,198   24,958     53.01%   45.31%   4,240   17.0%
105     23,228   20,710     52.11%   46.46%   2,518   12.2%
107     27,185   24,593     51.81%   46.87%   2,592   10.5%
112     28,221   22,308     55.01%   43.48%   5,913   26.5%
113     27,098   23,893     52.51%   46.30%   3,205   13.4%
114     35,975   28,182     55.21%   43.47%   7,793   27.7%
115     29,861   23,353     55.26%   43.22%   6,508   27.9%
136     35,296   26,423     55.06%   41.22%   8,873   33.6%

“Diff” is just the difference between the Romney and Obama totals. “Boost” is my way of quantifying how wide that gap really is. It’s the ratio of the Diff to the Obama total, which put another way is how big a turnout boost Democrats would need in 2016 over 2012 to match the Republican total. That doesn’t take into account any other factors, of course, it’s just intended as a bit of context. Note that for HDs 78 (where Obama won by more than ten points in 2012), 117, 118, and 144, Democrats already had a majority of the vote in 2012, so in theory all that is needed is to hold serve. Individual candidates matter as well, of course, though in 2012 there was literally only on State House race in which the winner was not from the party whose Presidential candidate carried the district, that being then-Rep. Craig Eiland in HD23. Point being, you can swim against the tide but it’s a lot more challenging to do so these days. I went and added a couple more races to the list that the Trib put together just for completeness and a sense of how big the difference is between the top tier and the next tier. I don’t have a point to make beyond this, I’m just noting all this for the record.

Primary results: Legislature and Congress

Rep. Lon Burnam

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

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

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

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

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