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Lon Burnam

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


Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Checking in on Battleground Texas

They’re still here.

So where does [Lon] Burnam see Battleground Texas in his plan to be the first Texas Democrat elected to a statewide office since 1994?

“No comment,” he said, before adding as he walked away, “In 20 years of public service, that’s the first time I’ve ever said that.”

Burnam’s response echoed that of many of the longtime liberal activists in the room and around Texas, underscoring the complicated feelings many Democrats have toward Battleground Texas. Many declined to comment for this story. Others were careful to avoid either actively criticizing the group or offering strong praise of it.

“They’re pretty easy to set up as a piñata,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat running for state Senate, at a recent Texas Tribune event. “I mean, at a bare minimum, they’re trying, and sometimes that’s just half the battle. Whether they’re set up for this, whether they are doing this the right way, I don’t have any way to judge.”


After feeling that the group sought excessive attention in 2014, now many activists see the opposite problem: Battleground Texas seems to be hibernating. The group has scaled down its paid staff operation and will likely only do some field work in a few priority House races this year, according to sources close to the party.

In the meantime, Battleground is ignoring an important opportunity by not being more engaged in the current election cycle, argues Christian Archer, a veteran Texas campaign strategist based in San Antonio.

“We want to be able to harness the energy of right now and use it in future elections,” Archer said. “You’re never going to get the level of engagement that you do in a presidential, so there’s no better time to get involved than today. And yet I haven’t even heard the name Battleground in six months.”

I still get emails from them, but I agree that the volume is considerably lower right now. BGTX does not currently have an executive director, which I suspect is part of why that is. Most of the people quoted in the story seem willing to put the past behind us and focus on working together to do some good in this year’s election. So at least the next ED of BGTX won’t have to do too much groveling as part of the job. What I want to see in the next generation of leadership at BGTX is a full accounting of what went wrong in 2014 – I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of that story – what we learned from it, and what will be different this time. Some specific goals for this year would be nice, in particular targets for registering new voters and turning them out at the polls. In an alternate universe, this would be the year that BGTX was gearing up to Do Big Things, as their original intent was to focus on Presidential year turnout. They’ve taken a very different path to get where they are now, one that has inflicted some painful lessons on us all. Surely BGTX and everyone else can make something of that brutal experience. We’ll be the better for it if we can.

Endorsement watch: RRC

The Chron endorses former State Rep. Lon Burnam in the Democratic primary for Railroad Commissioner.

Lon Burnam

Our recommendation for the Democratic primary is former state Rep. Lon Burnam.

Burnam, who served in the House for 18 years, including time spent on the Energy Resources Committee, is knowledgeable about the issues and well-qualified for his party’s nomination.

Burnam wants to rebrand the commission the Texas Energy Commission so that the public knows – its name notwithstanding – that the Railroad Commission is responsible for regulating the state’s oil and gas industry, as well as mining and pipelines.

Burnam says that if nominated and elected, he would push the commission to develop a comprehensive energy plan. Safety would be his top priority, and he would make sure that if tragedy strikes, the commission is out front, investigating what has occurred.

As a life-long environmentalist, Burnam would promote enhanced collaboration between state agencies and greater oversight of land restoration following drilling and of injection wells.

Burnam has racked up a few endorsements, including all the ones I’ve tracked here in Harris County, the editorial boards of the Morning News and Star-Telegram, and various environmental groups. This is the only statewide non-judicial office up for election, and the question as has been the case in recent years is whether a good background, a smattering of name recognition, and a bunch of establishment support can overcome a lack of money to get enough votes to win or at least make the runoff in a low-profile race., especially given the turnout that will be driven by a contested Presidential primary. The list of similar races that wound up generating random results is long enough to be a major concern. At least Cody Garrett offers an acceptable alternative, so in the event of a runoff there will be a candidate worth voting for no matter what. But this issue remains one that Democrats are going to have to figure out how to solve.

David Porter not running for re-election to RRC

Another open seat.

David Porter

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter will not be running for re-election after all.

Thursday’s surprise announcement from Porter, who was first elected in 2010, unleashed a flood of interest from Republicans pondering bids for his seat.

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and former state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, all confirmed they are weighing their options. And rumors were swirling around Austin that others might jump in.


Porter, who formerly ran a Midland accounting firm that catered to oil and gas companies, was elected to the three-member commission in 2010. And he took over as chairman in June.

At the agency (which also regulates mining, pipeline safety and natural gas utilities, but not railroads), Porter launched the Eagle Ford Shale Task Force, a collection of public officials, industry leaders, landowners and environmentalists who discussed issues surrounding oil and gas development in Texas’ drilling country. He also pushed Texas to find new uses for natural gas — particularly as a fuel for automobiles.

Last year, as Denton was preparing to vote on a hydraulic fracturing ban that the Legislature has since outlawed, Porter drew mocking from activists after he and another commissioner claimed — without evidence — that Russians were trying to shape the anti-fracking message in the North Texas town.

In recent weeks, Porter appeared to be gearing up for a major primary battle, sending out press releases blasting “radical environmentalist ideology” related to climate change and speaking of terror threats to power plants and pipelines posed by The Islamic State, or ISIS.

Porter is kind of an accidental Commissioner – he came out of nowhere to knock off then-Commissioner Victor Carrillo in the 2010 GOP primary, which no one saw coming. No great loss when he leaves, though as always the next person in line could be worse. Patterson or Keffer would be okay, the rest probably not. I figure this nomination will be decided in the runoff. It would of course be much better to have a good Democrat in the race, and as of Sunday, we have one:

Former state Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat, said Sunday that he has filed to run for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates oil and gas development.

“I think it’s really important that we have a progressive voice in this Railroad Commission race, and I think it’s very important we end one party rule in this state,” Burnam said.

Burnam represented House District 90 beginning in 1997; he ran for reelection in 2014 but was defeated in the Democratic primary by the current occupant of the seat, state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth.

Burnam would certainly be a fresh voice on the RRC, which isn’t used to having non-industry shills. He’s clearly a longshot to win, but given how crazy things are in the GOP Presidential primary, who knows what could happen. This is the only non-judicial statewide office on the ballot, and according to the Star-Telegram, Burnam will face 2014 Senate candidate Grady Yarbrough in the primary. We know what kind of random results we can get in these low-profile races, so I hope Burnam can raise a few bucks and get his name out. FuelFix has more.

Burnam drops electoral challenge

A good decision, in my opinion.

Rep. Lon Burnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court denies Burnam mandamus request

Rep. Lon Burnam

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

Burnam loses appeal in election contest

Another setback.

Rep. Lon Burnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnam challenge awaiting appeal

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

Rep. Lon Burnam

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

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

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

Brender said he was glad for the delay.

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

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

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

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

What the Burnam case is about

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

Rep. Lon Burnam

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnam election challenge update

Moving along, but no timeline as yet.

Rep. Lon Burnam

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnam files challenge in HD90

This ought to be interesting.

Rep. Lon Burnam

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Ramon Romero

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

Rep. Ramon Romero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primary results: Legislature and Congress

Rep. Lon Burnam

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

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

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

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

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

Somewhat less onerous navigator rules published

They could have been worse, but they could still be better.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Texas Department of Insurance on Tuesday issued state regulations for health care “navigators,” the workers who assist people seeking health insurance in the federal marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act.

The rules take into account some of the criticism aired recently by Democrats and health care advocates at public hearings, while also broadening the definition of “navigator” to allow additional organizations — not just those that received federal grants — to hire and train navigators.

“These rules will help ensure Texans have confidence that anyone registered as a navigator has passed appropriate background checks and received the training they need to safeguard a consumer’s most sensitive and personal information,” Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber said in a news release.

The rules require navigators to receive 20 hours of state-specific training in addition to the federal requirement of 20 to 30 hours of training, to undergo background checks, and to provide proof of identity. The rules also prohibit navigators from charging consumers, selling or negotiating health insurance coverage, recommending a specific health plan, or engaging in electioneering activities or otherwise supporting a candidate running for a political office.

Democrats and representatives from various health care organizations and nonprofits have raised concerns at public hearings held by the department that the proposed rules would impede navigators’ ability to educate people seeking health coverage, and divert time and funding away from their primary objective: helping people find health insurance.

In response to the public comments, the department removed from the proposed rules a $50 registration fee for each navigator. It also reduced the training requirements to 20 hours of state-specific training, from 40 hours in the proposed rules.

“There was no justification for the original proposal other than conservative politics,” state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said in a statement, “so I’m glad TDI has relented and come up with training requirements that are at least somewhat logical.”


Texans must apply before March 31 to receive federal tax credits to help pay for private coverage on the federal marketplace. Navigators must comply with the state’s additional training requirements and register by March 1.

Given the tight deadline, Democrats have alleged that the rules are politically motivated and are intended to curb enrollment in health plans offered in the federal marketplace. And despite the modifications, some Democrats and organizations that have hired and trained navigators say the rules will still increase costs, and take time away from navigators’ efforts.

Martha Blaine, executive director of the Community Council of Greater Dallas, which is among the groups that have received a federal grant to hire navigators, said the 12 navigators working for her organization have already undergone background checks and met other requirements in the state’s rules. She said she is unsure whether those efforts will have to be duplicated to meet the state’s requirements.

“It’s a bad use of resources, time and money,” she said.

See here, here, and here for the background. There’s a lot of people who’d like to enroll in an insurance plan via the exchange if Rick Perry and his cronies would quit interfering and get out of the way. Having these rules be only slightly obnoxious instead of blatantly obnoxious was probably the best outcome we could reasonably get. Here’s a side by side comparison of the rules as they were originally proposed and the rules that wound up being published (which you can see in full here), provided by Rep. Lon Burnam. I also received a letter Rep. Burnam sent about the original rules, and statements from Sen. Sylvia Garcia, and Reps. Garnet Coleman and Ruth Jones McClendon about the rules that were adopted. Finally, the Texas Organizing Project sent out a press release announcing a new collaborative effort to help inform folks about their health insurance options.

What does the DOMA decision mean for Texas?

Last week, the day after the disappointing SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act, we got a much more heartening ruling on DOMA, declaring it to be unconstitutional. However, not all of DOMA was struck down.

In a landmark Supreme Court decision on Wednesday, justices ruled that Section 3 of the 1996 law, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples, is unconstitutional. As Justice Anthony Kennedy argued, “DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code.”

But other parts of the law itself are still in effect, including Section 2. This part of the law allows states where same-sex marriage is either illegal or unrecognized not to honor the legal unions from other states around the country. Say a same-sex couple gets married in Iowa; their marriage does not have to be recognized in Alabama. This could become an issue if a couple needs to move to a different state.

That includes Texas, of course. The fact that same-sex marriage remains illegal in Texas was noted by the Chronicle:

“Individual states will continue to enforce their laws until challenged, but we see those challenges coming,” said Houston appellate lawyer Allie Levy. “We will have to go state by state, but we might have much better weapons than we had before.”

Local blogger Michael Coppens believes Wednesday’s rulings make the building momentum for full marriage equality unstoppable.

“For Texas, it doesn’t have a huge impact immediately,” said Coppens, who is gay. “We still have a long way to go. Congratulations to California – they’ve got it and we don’t. But fundamentally it turns the tide. I don’t think the national movement for same-sex marriage can be stopped. With the general public becoming more supportive, and now this ruling taking place, you have the foundation for the anti-gay marriage laws we have across the country going away.”

And by the Dallas Morning News.

“Texas still bars couples from same-sex marriage, and this decision doesn’t change that,” said Cary Franklin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office declined to comment on the effect of the rulings.

One Democratic lawmaker, Fort Worth state Rep. Lon Burnam, immediately vowed to reintroduce legislation to legalize same-gender marriages in Texas. The state became the 19th to adopt a constitutional ban of same-sex unions in 2005.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to refile my marriage-equality bill, and that’s the first thing I will do on Monday,” said Burnam, who filed a similar bill in February that died in committee.

The bill cannot advance in the Texas Legislature’s special session unless Gov. Rick Perry, an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage, adds it to the agenda.

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits and, by declining to decide a case from California, effectively allowed same-sex marriages there.

UT’s Franklin said the high court’s rulings may inspire lawsuits, anti-discrimination policies and scrutiny of same-sex marriage bans nationwide.

“People in Texas didn’t immediately gain any rights, but the court issued a decision that talked about the importance of equality for couples,” she said.


I noted Rep. Burnam’s bill, which will not see the light of day in the special session but which is still laudatory, over the weekend. There’s no question that right-thinking legislators need to mount a full assault on Texas’ awful Double Secret Illegal anti-gay marriage amendment, in the 2014 campaigns and in the 2015 legislative session – and beyond, as will be necessary – but as I have said before, the fact that it is in the constitution makes this an extra heavy lift. I continue to believe that the death of this atrocity will come from a courtroom and not the Lege, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to kill it in the Lege. It’s still the right thing to do, and hey, you never know. Attitudes have shifted so quickly on the national level, I may be wrong about how long it will take to shift sufficiently here to make a legislative fix viable. Nobody would have thought we’d be where we are now after that stupid thing was ratified in 2005.

There is another avenue available to apply pressure on this, and that’s in the cities and school districts. They need to have full, up to date non-discrimination policies, and they need to offer domestic partner benefits, even if they can’t call them “domestic partner benefits”. Make as much of Texas as gay-friendly as possible within the confines of the current law, and get as many people as possible used to the idea that this is the way things are now. The entities that already have such policies are keeping them in the face of hostility from AG Abbott and some small-minded legislators; they could use some company. If that leads to lawsuits from the forces of backwardness, I say bring it. I don’t fear this being fought out in court.

What that means for those of us who support equality is that in addition to supporting like-minded candidates for state office, we need to support them for local offices, too. Where do your Mayors and Council members and school board trustees stand on this? We’re behind the curve here in Houston thanks to a 2001 charter referendum that banned the city from offering domestic partner benefits. We can’t have a charter amendment referendum until either November 2014 or May 2015 (because we passed amendments last November and can’t put any others on a ballot until two calendar years after that date), and it’s time to start working towards that. Mayor Annise Parker has applauded the SCOTUS DOMA ruling – as far as I can tell by looking at their Facebook pages, she is the only one of the four Mayoral candidates to have commented on this. That’s a good start, but she and all other candidates for Houston city offices need to be pushed to take action on undoing the ban on offering domestic partner benefits. HISD Trustee candidates need to be pushed on offering such benefits, too, if only to get the stench of the 2011 election out of everyone’s mouths. The same is true for other cities and other school boards. I mean, the Supreme Court has just unequivocally acknowledged that this kind of discrimination is wrong. What are we waiting for? BOR, CultureMap, and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: Kudos to Texpatriate for getting a statement out of Eric Dick, and trying to get one out of Ben Hall.

Burnam to re-file marriage equality bill for Special Session 2

From the inbox:

Upon the announcement [Wednesday] of a second special legislative session by Governor Rick Perry, as well as the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, State Representative Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) today announced his intention to re-file his Marriage Equality bill from the 83rd regular Legislative Session, HB 1300.

“The Supreme Court found today that the federal government acted to ‘impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages.’ I can assure you the Texas Legislature did the same. As such, it is time to renounce our homophobic state laws and usher in marriage equality in Texas,” said Rep. Burnam.

Governor Perry announced his intention on Wednesday to call a special session to deal with all unfinished business from the first session, including the abortion bill killed by Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) in her historic filibuster. However, in the first special session, Governor Perry had also added several issues throughout the session.

“I call on Governor Perry to add marriage equality to the special session call,” said Rep. Burnam. “Clearly granting equal rights to all Texans is more urgent than imposing restrictions on women’s health and liberty based on junk science and sham medical research.”

“It is the shame of our state that we continually have to wait for a federal judge to make us do the right thing. It happened with segregated schools, segregated parks and segregated housing. Let’s not let it happen with segregated marriage rights.”

In the 83rd Legislative Session, Rep. Burnam had introduced but had failed to even get a hearing for the bill. The bill is not a constitutional amendment, but rather amends key parts of Texas state law to extend parental, property and other legal rights of marriage to same-sex couples.

Here’s HB1300. This is absolutely the right thing to do, and I salute Rep. Burnam for doing it. That said, Rick Perry will host a fundraiser for Wendy Davis before he’ll put this on the special session agenda. Democrats did a good job introducing marriage equality bills during the regular session, and I expect them to be back in a big way on this in 2015, but regardless of any Supreme Court decisions, this is unfortunately not going to happen now.

Texas Lottery Commission dies and is reborn

And we have our first curveball of the legislative session.

Is this the end?

The House voted Tuesday to defeat a must-pass bill reauthorizing the Texas Lottery Commission, a stunning move that casts doubt on the lottery as a whole and may potentially cost the state billions in revenue.

House Bill 2197 began as a seemingly routine proposal to continue the operations of the commission that oversees the lottery until September 2025. But opposition mounted after one lawmaker called it a tax on the poor, and the House eventually voted 82-64 to defeat the measure.

A short time after the vote, the House called an abrupt lunch recess and could reconsider the measure if any lawmaker who voted against it offers such a motion. Unless lawmakers reconsider, the commission would begin a one-year wind down, and cease to exist by Sept. 1, 2014.

“There are more members than I thought who are against the lottery and just have a psychological aversion of it,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, who sponsored the failed bill.

The state Senate has yet to consider the matter, but it can’t because the so-called “sunset bill” on the Lottery Commission initiated in the House.

For now, there’s no one to operate the lottery, which means a potential loss of $1.04 billion in annual revenue for the Permanent School Fund and $27.3 million to cities and counties from charitable bingo.

The state budget already under consideration in the Legislature has factored in the $1.04 billion — and losing the lottery proceeds would create a deficit lawmakers would need to fill.

Here’s HB2197. I think it’s fair to say no one saw this coming. Here’s more from the Trib:

During a spirited debate on the bill, state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, got a round of applause in the House as he spoke against the bill, calling the lottery a “predatory tax” and “a tax on poor people.”

As soon as the vote was over, House leaders were already discussing possible workarounds to keep the programs going. Anchia said the House may reconsider the vote.

Texans spent $3.8 billion on lottery tickets in the 2011 fiscal year, according to the Legislative Budget Board. The majority of that was paid out to players and retailers, with $963 million transferred to the Foundation School Account. Another $8.1 million was transferred to the Texas Veterans Commission.

Anchia warned that charity groups around the state would be outraged at learning they could no longer host bingo games.

“VFW Bingo’s dead now,” Anchia said. “They’re going to have to go back to their constituents and explain why bingo is illegal.”

I don’t disagree with what Rep. Sanford says, though I wonder if he will feel the same way when the payday lending bill comes to the House floor. In the end, however, everyone sobered up after taking a lunch break.

In a 91-53 vote Tuesday afternoon, the Texas House passed House Bill 2197, continuing the the Texas Lottery Commission. An earlier vote Tuesday had failed to continue the commission.

Bill supporters spent the hour after the first vote impressing on those who voted against it the impact of cutting $2.2 billion from schools. The House Republican Caucus hastily assembled to discuss the situation.

“I think when people took a sober look at the budget dilemma that would ensue, they voted different,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, the bill’s author.

Several lottery critics in the House saw the day’s drama as a victory, setting the stage for a more thorough debate on the lottery in the future. Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said he originally voted “no” largely to make clear his opposition to gambling. Once that statement was made, it made more sense to back the Lottery Commission for now.

“I don’t like gambling, but I do like school funding,” Aycock said. ‘It was, for me, at least, a signal vote. I sort of anticipated I would switch that vote when I made it.”

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said school funding was also the primary motivator for his switch.

“When you weigh principle vs a billion dollars in public ed, I set aside my principle for a billion dollars in public ed,” Burnam said. “I still hate the lottery.”

I had always wondered why they vote on bills three times in the Lege. Now I understand. Having had their fun and having made their statements of principle, if the Lege is serious about wanting to eliminate the Lottery, let’s go about it in the next session by filing a bill and letting it go through the usual committee process, mmkay? Thanks. BOR, who notes that failure to pass this bill could have led to a special session, and Texpatriate have more.

Student RFID bill gets House hearing

We knew this day would come.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Marriage equality bill filed

As I said before, some things you do because they’re the right thing to do.

On the right side of history

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, filed a bill Thursday to permit same-sex couples to marry, calling it a “Valentine’s Day gift to all Texans.”

His measure is one of several bills filed recently that deal with gay rights issues.

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, filed Senate Bill 538, which would take the term “homosexual conduct” out of the penal code.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Texas laws banning sodomy were unconstitutional. Though such laws cannot be enforced anymore, some are still technically on the books. Rodríguez’s bill would nix the part of the Texas Penal Code that lists “homosexual conduct” as a misdemeanor crime. Similar bills filed in 2011 were unsuccessful.


Burnam’s House Bill 1300 would extend the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, including property and homestead rights, child custody and support, adoption, and workers’ compensation benefits. Lawmakers who have signed on as co-authors include Democratic state Reps. Mary González, Ana Hernandez Luna, Donna Howard, Eddie Lucio III, Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, Mark Strama, Chris Turner, Armando Walle and Gene Wu. A similar bill, SB 480, allowing civil unions, was filed by state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Rep. Burnam’s bill would only take effect if one of the joint resolutions that were filed previously to repeal the loathsome double secret illegal anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment is adopted. No, of course I don’t expect that to happen this session, but it’s coming eventually and we all know it. Well, most of us do, anyway.

Former state lawmaker Warren Chisum, who sponsored the proposal that put Texas’ version of the Defense of Marriage Act in the state constitution, said he hasn’t changed his views and he doesn’t think the state has, either.

“I know there’s a big push, seems like, around the United States, but you know, I don’t think Texas has changed their mind,” Chisum said. “We’ll be the oddball of all of them, I guess. If everybody else in the country switches, I still think the view of Texas is a little more conservative than the rest of the country.”

Gov. Rick Perry’s spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said, “The governor fully agrees with Texas voters, who made clear in 2005 that they believe marriage should remain between a man and a woman.”

Chisum and Perry sure are a couple of excellent symbols for the Texas GOP, aren’t they? Old, white, proudly intolerant, and stuck in the past as the world changes around them. Somewhere, a bunch of young Republican activists are grinding their teeth. Anyway, you can see a video of Rep. Burnam discussing his bill here. BOR has more.

Where are the doctors?

The Morning News tries to verify that the Dallas-area providers listed for the new Texas Women’s Health Program are in fact providing health care services to the women in this program as advertised. It goes about as well as you’d expect.

Right there with them

A Dallas Morning News survey of 336 contacts listed online for the program showed that 18 percent of the 55 unrepeated physicians and offices surveyed knew they were a part of the program and are accepting new patients. Two listings point people to businesses with no connection to the program — a sports medicine clinic and a title company.

A spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, which operates the new program, acknowledged that the list has problems.

“It’s not that it’s a list that they shouldn’t be using, it’s that there are addresses on that list that shouldn’t be there, so we’re going to have to do some work to clean that list up,” said Linda Edwards Gockel.

Gockel said the list, which has been available on the program website for more than three months, is not the same list of 3,500 approved providers the state has touted. It represents all the locations a potential provider billed from in the past.

She said the commission hopes to have the list corrected by next week. Gockel could not say why it was not removed sooner, but that women can always call the 1-800 number listed on the website. After The News pointed out the list’s failings, subsequent press releases from the commission avoided mention of the website.

In fact, if you go to the Texas Women’s Health Program website now and click the Find A Doctor link, you will not see any providers listed at all:

According to Trail Blazers, the site “will be fixed sometime this week”, though it looks now like that has been pushed out a few more days. Reps. Donna Howard and Lon Burnam had previously found the same problems that the DMN reports on here in Austin and Fort Worth. Now other Democrats are getting in on the action.

“It is unacceptable that thousands of Texas women may be cut off from access to the program due to the program’s inability to meet demand,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, the House Democratic Caucus chairwoman, in a prepared statement. “My main concern is to ensure that women may be given the opportunity to affordable and accessible health care.”

Using the Texas Public Information Act, Farrar requested that the agency release a list of the available providers enrolled in the Texas Women’s Health Program along with the number of patients they anticipate serving, the number of patients served by the former Medicaid Women’s Health Program and the geographical areas in the state where provider enrollment does not meet demand.

Good on you, Rep. Farrar. What all this says to me is that the list that had been given on the website was complete and unadulterated junk and that they have taken it down in a desperate attempt to fix it. Remember that the state has been bragging for months about how they’re all fired up and ready to go without Planned Parenthood and with a list of 3,000 providers all set to step in. Is there any reason now to believe that was anything but a lie? Further, given the obvious problems and the complete disconnect between what the state has been saying and what everyone who has bothered to check has discovered, is there any reason to think the state will get this fixed any time soon? I say no and no.

I also say it’s time to get the people primarily responsible for this mess on the record about it. That includes State Sen. Bob Deuell, who requested the AG opinion that declared the state could sever ties with Planned Parenthood while still receiving federal money for the WHP (and how has that turned out so far?); Kyle Janek, the chair of the Health and Human Services Commission; and of course Rick Perry himself. Good on the DMN and Reps. Howard, Burnam, and Farrar for uncovering this lie, but it’s time for everyone else to get in the game as well. Rick Perry isn’t going to care about this until he’s forced to care about it.

School finance dispatches

Some bad news for the state in the school finance lawsuit.

State District Judge John Dietz directed state attorneys Wednesday to redo a key study that underestimated the funding advantages of higher-wealth school districts — a blow to the state’s arguments in a school finance lawsuit that current differences among districts are insignificant.

Dietz asked that the study be corrected after attorneys for school districts suing the state cited multiple miscalculations in the report. It was offered as evidence by the state to show that the funding gap between higher-wealth and other districts has diminished in the last six years.

Rick Gray, an attorney for one of the plaintiff groups, said the gap has actually increased more than 50 percent during the period. The 152 wealthiest districts in Texas have $1,671 per student more to spend than the rest of school districts.

In a class of 22 students, that amounts to an extra $37,762 per year.


One big mistake in the state study was that it counted twice the amount of revenue that higher-wealth districts had to surrender last year under the “Robin Hood” provisions of school funding law. That miscalculation artificially reduced the funding levels for higher-wealth districts listed in the study.

Gray said the gap between wealthy and other districts actually increased from $1,084 in 2006 to $1,671 in 2012 — unlike the original study, which showed the gap decreased during the period. He also said that tax rates were 1.3 cents lower in higher-wealth districts in 2006, but 9.8 cents less in 2012.

Gray then asked [Lisa Dawn-Fisher of the Texas Education Agency] about wide funding disparities among school districts located in the same county.

One example was in Dallas County, where the Irving school district has a slightly higher tax rate than the Highland Park district, but receives $1,615 less per student than Highland Park. That difference means an extra $35,530 per classroom in Highland Park.

“Is there any reason to justify that kind of funding difference?” Gray asked.

That’s a critical question for the part of the lawsuit that focuses on inequity. I don’t think there’s a good answer to Gray’s question, but we’ll see what the state has to say. My suspicion is that they won’t directly rebut the point but will simply argue that there’s no proof the disparity makes that much difference.

The lawsuit is also about adequacy, which is to say the claim that the state is not providing enough money for the standards and requirements it mandates. To that end, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst expects the state will need to pony up, though not just yet.

Given the state’s $8.8 billion surplus—a relative bonanza compared to the rough situation during last legislative session—will the Legislature share some of that bounty with the schools?

Dewhurst doesn’t seem to be thinking in those terms. Instead, he told the Observer, he’s concerned that if legislators aren’t careful, that excess money will quickly run out.

“Well, we knew our economy was rebounding from the recession, so my advice to people is don’t get greedy,” Dewhurst said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in a year or two from now, but we need to leave some savings in the Rainy Day Fund.”

Dewhurst said it’s imperative that the state set aside money, since so many districts are suing for more money in the funding system. “I would expect the odds are that whatever the courts decide will mean more money that the state will put in,” he said, suggesting the state needs to budget for the likelihood of a court-mandated funding system that’s more expensive. “I think it’s imperative that we set aside some money to go ahead and cover that decision.”

Not really clear what that means. It’s consistent with the idea of at least restoring the funds needed to cover enrollment growth, but it’s also consistent with the idea of being as penurious as possible. Why pay now if you have to pay later, right? The Trib goes into some more detail.

Dewhurst said the Senate’s base budget, which will be proposed next week, will include “$88 or $89 billion” in general revenue spending. He said the budget would include enough funding to account for growth in entitlement programs and public school enrollment, but said it would be based on the current public education budget and not on education spending patterns before budget cuts two years ago. A loud chorus of education groups and Democratic lawmakers has called for restoring the last session’s school cuts as well as increasing the budget to account for the state’s population growth, a task that would require an $108 billion budget, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank in Austin.

The supplemental appropriations bill, needed to cover spending in the current budget, will initially total about $5.2 billion, Dewhurst said. That includes $4.5 billion to carry the state’s Medicaid program through the end of the year, with the balance being spent on health care in the state’s prison system and on money Texas unexpectedly spent fighting wildfires. It doesn’t include $1.9 billion to offset a public education payment delayed into the next fiscal year to balance the budget; Dewhurst said that would be included in the next two-year budget instead of in the supplemental bill.

Ongoing school finance lawsuits have prompted predictions that lawmakers will have to punt on public education funding until the suit is resolved later this year. Dewhurst said he wants lawmakers to prepare for a ruling that requires the Legislature to put more money into schools by putting some money aside in the current budget for that purpose.

“Based on my experience in 2006, in which the courts came back and said we needed to put several billion dollars more in public education. … I’m saying it would be wise to leave some money,” he said.

If lawmakers don’t plan ahead, the extra funding that the courts may mandate might force lawmakers to break the state’s spending cap, a move that requires support of four-fifths of lawmakers. Crossing such a hurdle would be difficult, if not impossible, Dewhurst said.

“We’re not going to have a lot of room,” he said. “If the courts require us to break the spending cap, I want everybody to realize that or we’re not going to get the [required] four-fifths vote.”

Perhaps the court should include a provision in its ruling that allows for the incarceration of any legislator who prevents complying with its order. Regardless, given all this and Dewhurst’s desire to tackle water and transportation issues as well, I hope he expresses similar reservations about tax cuts until we know what the courts say about school finance. Wouldn’t be prudent to cut a bunch of taxes and then have to go searching for more revenue to fulfill the court’s order, would it?

On the other hand, while there may not be much appetite to restore funding for things like classroom instruction, libraries, or science labs, we may get funding for weapons training for teachers. Boo yah!

Finally, this AP story says that Rep. Lon Burnam has filed a bill to restore all of the $5.4 billion cut from the state’s public schools in 2011. However, I can’t find any such bill at this time, and neither a press release from Rep. Burnam’s that lists his opening day bills nor this report detailing the impact of the education cuts mentions such a thing. I’m sure there will be such a bill filed, whether by Rep. Burnam or someone else, but as far as I can tell Rep. Burnam has not done so yet.

No injunction in state lawsuit for Planned Parenthood


Right there with them

Travis County District Judge Stephen Yelenosky on Friday refused to grant Planned Parenthood’s request for a temporary injunction to be included in the Texas Women’s Health Program.

“Probable injury is not really sufficient,” said Yelenosky, who ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood at a hearing in December, “… because it is unlikely that the plaintiffs will succeed at trial, I will deny the temporary injunction.”

Although Yelenosky agreed with Planned Parenthood’s arguments that the organization’s exclusion from the Texas WHP could endanger access to health services, his ruling indicated he did not believe their legal arguments would be successful at trial. Yelenosky also cited a “poison pill” rule that would cause the Texas WHP to self-destruct if a court overturned the Affiliate Ban Rule in the reasoning for his ruling.

“This allows us to continue to provide important family planning and preventive care to low-income women and fully enforce state law,” Dr. Kyle Janek, the state’s executive commissioner of health and human services, said in a statement on the ruling. “We’ve got the Texas Women’s Health Program up and running, and we’ll continue to provide help to any woman who needs to find a new doctor or clinic.”

Pete Schenkkan, a lawyer representing Planned Parenthood, said the organization is “confident in the merits of our case,” and will still consider taking the case to trial.

See here and here for the background. It’s not looking too good for Planned Parenthood at this point, though of course it’s the women who depend on their services that are the real losers. I suppose they could still win at trial, but as I said before it’s ultimately at the ballot box where the fight really matters.

As for the state’s claims that everything is peachy keen with their replacement WHP, Rep. Lon Burnam joined his colleague Rep. Donna Howard in checking with the providers that are listed on the Texas WHP website. You will I’m sure be shocked to hear that most of the providers listed are not in fact participating in the program. See his release beneath the fold and his much more accurate list of providers in Tarrant County here.

On top of this, the Better Texas blog reminds us that the problems run deeper than just the WHP:

Over the last year much attention has been paid to the fate of the 130,000 women in WHP, and especially the 40,000+ who choose Planned Parenthood as their provider. While this is certainly worthy of attention (and even outrage), comparatively little attention has been paid to the DSHS family planning cuts that took effect in 2011 and have already resulted in 147,000 women losing access and 53 safety net family planning clinics closing.

It seems the media followed WHP more closely, because of the attention-grabbing dispute between Texas and the federal government, and lawsuits between the state and Planned Parenthood. By comparison the 2011 Legislature’s votes to cut DSHS family planning by two-thirds ($73 million over the biennium) provided less drama, even though they’ve harmed more women and slashed or eliminated funding from more safety net providers. And the DSHS cuts didn’t just hurt that program. Clinics that closed in the wake of the DSHS cuts also provided care in WHP and had staff on site that helped women through the WHP enrollment process. Since the DSHS cuts took effect, client enrollment in WHP has declined.

On the bright side, the Lege is reconsidering that decision to slash family planning funds since someone explained to them that less birth control means more babies. So they have going for them.


White Ds and non-white Rs

A few points to make about this.

White Democrats are an increasingly vanishing species in the Texas Legislature, where there will be only 10 when the new legislative session starts in early January.

The face of the Legislature has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past 25 years, and the state’s rapidly changing demographics are expected to guarantee even more profound changes over the next quarter century.

Twenty years ago, the Legislature included 83 white Democrats. Today, the white Democratic lawmaker is a rarity in the 181-member Legislature.

Vanishing rural, white Democrats account for most of the changes. There were 56 rural, white Democrats sitting in the 1987-88 Texas Legislature. Today, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, (Zavala County) is the only rural white Democrat remaining. He did not return phone calls for comment.

The Chron needs to check its math. By my count, there will 11 Anglo Dems sworn in to the Lege in 2013:

Rep. Craig Eiland – HD23
Rep. Donna Howard – HD48
Rep. Elliott Naishtat – HD49
Rep. Mark Strama – HD50
Rep. Joe Pickett – HD79
Rep. Tracy King – HD80
Rep. Lon Burnam – HD90
Rep. Chris Turner – HD101

Sen. Wendy Davis – SD10
Sen. Kirk Watson – SD14
Sen. John Whitmire – SD15

I suspect Rep. Chris Turner, who was elected in 2008 then wiped out in 2010 before coming back in a newly-drawn district this year, is the one they overlooked. Note that in the three biggest counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar), there are no Anglo Dems in the House and only one in the Senate. After the 2008 election, Harris had Reps. Scott Hochberg, Ellen Cohen, and Kristi Thibaut; Dallas had Reps. Robert Miklos, Carol Kent, Kirk England, and Allen Vaught; and Bexar had Rep. David Leibowitz. All except Hochberg were defeated in the 2010 massacre, and Hochberg retired after the 2011 session.

You really can’t overstate the effect of the 2010 election. As I said before, the loss of all those rural Dems means that the road back to parity for Democrats is that much steeper. It also significantly de-honkified the existing party. The rural Dems were for the most part dead men walking whether they realized it or not, but losing them all at once rather than over the course of several cycles radically changed things. The Dems have a number of possible pickup opportunities for 2014, some of which may elect Anglo Dems, but even in a wildly optimistic scenario, you’re looking at a tough slog to get to 60, and that’s a long way from parity, even farther away than they were after the 2002 election. Beyond that, you’re either waiting for demographic change in some of the suburban districts, or hoping for some kind of external game-changer. It’s not a pretty picture, at least in the short term.

The long term is a different story, even if the writing on the wall is in a six-point font:

For years, Republicans made a high priority of targeting white Democrats for defeat, via election when they could win, or redistricting when they couldn’t, contended former Texas Democratic Party executive director Harold Cook.

“The irony is that in their efforts to limit Democrats to minority real estate through redistricting, they also separated themselves from the fastest growing demography. In 20 years they may well see that they wrote their own political obituary,” Cook said.

Twenty years is an awfully long time, and I think we can all agree that way too many things can affect current trajectories to have any confidence in them. That said, while there are 11 Anglo Dems out of 67 total Dems in the Lege (16 percent of the total), there are all of six non-Anglo Republicans out of 114 total, which is five percent. (The six are, by my count, Reps. JM Lozano, Larry Gonzales, Jason Villalba, James White, Stefani Carter, and Angie Chen Button.) That’s down from eight last session – nine if you count Dee Margo – as Reps. Aliseda, Garza, Pena, and Torres departed but only Villalba and the turncoat Lozano arrived. To Cook’s point, Aliseda, Pena, and Torres were all adversely affected by redistricting – Aliseda and Pena (another turncoat) declined to run because they didn’t have a winnable district, and Torres ran for Senate after being paired with Connie Scott, who wound up losing by 15 points. Only Garza had a shot at re-election, and his district was a major point of contention in the redistricting litigation. Barring a 2010-style election in 2014, the Rs don’t have many obvious targets in Latino-heavy districts. You can’t assume the current trajectory will continue, but as long as it does this is the way it’s going.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, I also overlooked an incoming freshman, Rep. Scott Turner in the new HD33, who is a non-white Republican, thus upping that total to seven. My apologies for the oversight.

The out candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 Day finance reports, other state races

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primary news: HD90, HD113, HCDE

State Rep. Lon Burnam has an opponent in March.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget passes

It’s official.

The Texas House and Senate passed a state budget Saturday that cuts billions from public schools, state universities and health care for the elderly.

The $172 billion legislation now goes to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature.

Facing a massive revenue shortfall, lawmakers crafted the budget by making cuts and using deferrals rather than raising taxes or dipping into the $10 billion reserve fund.

The Senate voted 20-11, mostly along party lines. McAllen Sen. Chuy Hinojosa was the only Democrat who supported the bill.


In all funds, the plan for 2012-2013 is $15 billion less than the current budget, but that doesn’t account for the costs of providing services to new population.

According to Postcards, the House vote was 97-53 for the budget – guess that means the Speaker cast a vote as well – and according to the Trib, one of the four Republican votes against was the turncoat Aaron Pena. Nice to see that he remains consistent in his lack of principles. That means that all 49 House Dems voted No, which is exactly what they should have done. Not much else for me to say about this, so let me turn it over to the numerous statements I’ve received, all of which are reproduced beneath the fold.


From the “Stuff I’d like to see happen but won’t” files

You may recall that one of the LBB recommendations for helping to close the budget gap was to impose a $100 surcharge on the purchase of fuel-inefficient vehicles. I said at the time that I loved the idea but thought it had zero chance of being adopted. This Star-Telegram story about the surcharge does nothing to change that impression.

State officials are considering a $100 surcharge on the purchase of some new vehicles that don’t meet federal fuel efficiency standards. It’s one legislative proposal designed to raise more revenue and help reduce the looming, multibillion-dollar deficit.

“Despite the increased costs associated with inefficient vehicles, they are exempt from the federal gas-guzzler tax and do not pay any additional sales tax,” a recent Legislative Budget Board report said. “A surcharge attached to the sale of new vehicles with high emissions would compensate for the higher-than-average transportation-related costs these vehicles create.”

Critics say now is not the right time to levy more fees, surcharges or taxes on Texans.

“Some of these vehicles I believe that would get tagged with the surcharge are needed by small businesses for their livelihood — farmers, truckers,” said Talmadge Heflin, director of the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Fiscal Policy. “We should be free to buy the kind of vehicle we need without fear of having to pay an extra surcharge just because of what we choose to buy.”

No bills have been filed to add the surcharge.

It would be nice if someone could explain the concept of an externality to Talmadge Heflin. Be that as it may, the only person quoted in the story favoring the surcharge was Rep. Lon Burnam, and sadly he is unlikely to wield much influence this session. I’m dubious about Rep. Elliott Naishtat’s bill to make online retailers pay sales taxes, but at least there is a bill filed for that. When and if there’s a bill filed for this, we can see if it makes sense to upgrade its chances from zilch to something slightly greater than that.

The state of the state

Is strong, according to Rick Perry. So strong, in fact, that we’re going to kick the legs out of social services, because clearly we don’t need them.

When the state faced a budget crisis in 2003, Gov. Rick Perry’s office released a budget proposal that was full of zeros, stating that each agency would have to justify every dollar they spent. In 2011, the Governor has taken a different approach, releasing a budget with numbers.

Perry’s budget proposal slashes spending on the Health and Human Services Commission (providing about half of what the agency requested), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (providing only two-thirds of what the agency requested) and the Public Utilities Commission (only giving the PUC about 10% of what the agency requested).

Health and Human Services provides the state funding for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program. TCEQ regulates polluters, such as coal power plants and oil refineries. The TCEQ has been engaged in a long running battle with the EPA, which has long held that the TCEQ is far too lax when it comes to enforcing environmental law. The Public Utilities Commission regulates the state’s utilities and power grid. The state’s grid suffered from rolling blackouts during one of the coldest weeks in recent memory in Texas.

What’s a few blackouts among rugged individuals? Naturally, Perry doesn’t share in the sacrifice he’s calling on others to make, as his budget (a copy of which you can see here) calls for more money for his slush funds the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund. He also extracts some revenge on the Historical Commission for not giving his wife what she wanted in the reconstruction of the Governor’s Mansion. Classy.

You can read the full text of Perry’s remarks here if you really want to. My reaction is that the Lege is already working on budget proposals, and they’ve already heard a lot of testimony from people who would be directly harmed by them, about which the Governor might know something if he weren’t off traipsing around the country. He still wouldn’t care, of course, but at least he might know. Other reactions of which I’m aware:

Texas Liberal

Texas Watch

BOR, which has a few more reactions from others here

State Sen. Kirk Watson

Texas Forward

Various other legislative Democrats

The Texas State Teachers’ Association

State Rep. Armando Walle

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

Paul Burka and Patricia Kilday Hart, who notes that Perry essentially refuted the idea of tuition deregulation in this speech

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez

State Rep. Lon Burnam

In the Pink


State Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna

State Rep. Carol Alvarado

Abby Rapoport

Nick Anderson

The Pitts budget

Here it is, and if it is a shock to you, you haven’t been paying attention.

The House’s starting-point budget proposal would provide for a total budget of $156.4 billion in state and federal money, a decrease of $31.1 billion, or nearly 17 percent, from the current budget period.

The budget proposes nearly $5 billion less for public education below the current base funding. It is also $9.8 billion less than what is needed to cover current funding formulas, which includes about 170,000 additional students entering the public school system during the next two-year budget cycle. Pre-kindergarten would be scaled back.

Higher education funding, including student financial aid, would be slashed.

The proposal wouldn’t provide funding for all the people projected to be eligible for the Medicaid program and would slash Medicaid reimbursement rates for health care providers.

Community supervision programs would be cut and a Sugar Land prison unit would be closed. Funding would be eliminated for four community colleges including Brazosport near Lake Jackson.

Thousands of state jobs would be cut.

I’m not sure where to provide a link for this, because HB1 has not been filed yet, according to TLO. If I understand correctly, Pitts’ outline was just give via printouts. Be that as it may, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that this isn’t a bill. Rep. Pitts’ stated objective was to show what the budget would look like if there were no increases in revenue and the Rainy Day Fund were unused. The Senate is working on its own budget outline, which by all reports does assume that the Rainy Day Fund will be tapped for some amount, so it will be different.

Most importantly, now everybody, including all those freshman Republican legislators, know exactly what they’re up against. No more hiding behind vague and meaningless platitudes about “cutting waste” and “smaller government”, because this is what all that means. Now is the time for everyone who will be on the business end of these proposals to make their displeasure known, starting with school districts.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Superintendent David Anthony estimated that his district could lose $80 million under the budget blueprint.
“That would significantly impact everything we do in the district,” he said.

The state’s third largest school district has already cut more than $70 million, including some 800 positions, over the past four years.

“We’re very lean already,” Anthony said. “Future cuts will impact the services we provide. We want to maintain quality. If you continue additional pressure and cuts, eventually it breaks.”

Scaling back pre-kindergarten programs would deliver a big low for Houston ISD because about 80 percent of the students come from low-income families, district spokesman Jason Spencer said.

Here’s more on that:

Lawmakers, though, would have to rewrite school-funding formulas because the House leaders’ plan falls $9.8 billion short of obligations to school districts and charter schools.

“They’ve got to pass a major school finance bill with major cuts in it,” said school finance expert Dan Casey, who predicts renewed interest in a lawsuit against the state “if you see cuts of this magnitude and no changes in standards.”

The House budget would push Texas into uncharted territory, he said.

“There isn’t anybody – even the more veteran legislators – that have been through those kinds of reductions,” Casey said.


Under the House plan, public schools, which teach reading and arithmetic to future workers, would receive no extra money to cover enrollment increases. Nor would districts be given more state funds, as currently required, to offset declining local property values.

“That’s catastrophic for any fast-growing districts, like a Frisco or a Lewisville,” said Casey, a former adviser to the Legislature on school finance who now has a thriving private consulting practice.

The budget would eliminate funds for the nation’s largest experiment in teacher merit pay. Also zeroed out would be the main remedial program created by Texas in 1999, as it required students in certain grades to pass achievement tests to be promoted.

“You’re going to have the same rising standards and less financial help for the support that will make students successful,” Casey said.

Somewhat bizarrely, both Rick Perry and David Dewhurst made claims about protecting the vulnerable and providing a “world-class education” in their inauguration speeches. Neither of those things is remotely possible under the Pitts outline. The question is what happens next. The answer, as always, is to make your voices heard. I know of one group in HD134, organizing via Facebook, that’s meeting to “petition support from our newly elected representative, Sarah Davis, to support funding for public education”. I have no idea what effect that or any other such effort may have, but if you don’t make it clear to your Reps and Senators that you didn’t vote for this and will vote against anyone who supports these kinds of cuts, they’ll have no reason to think there’s any problem with doing so. We have 132 days to make sure they know. Reactions from various Democratic lawmakers are beneath the fold. The Trib has more on the budget in general, while Grits, Postcards, and the Trib again discuss the criminal justice impact of the outline, and the LBB webpage now has some budget docs.


We have a number for the hole

There’s actually more than one number that can be used to accurately describe the state budget deficit, depending on what your perspective is, but however you look at it, it’s big and it’s no longer projected or theoretical.

State Comptroller Susan Combs today said lawmakers will have $72.2 billion available to spend in general revenue over the next two years — nearly $15 billion less than they budgeted in the current period.

Combs’ official revenue estimate sets the limit for how much lawmakers can budget for state services.

Her estimate puts the shortfall in the amount needed to continue the current level of services – taking into account such items as population growth – at least at $27 billion, according to figures from the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which focuses on low- and moderate-income Texans.


Looking at state agency funding requests, the Center for Public Policy Priorities found that the state will need at least $99 billion in general revenue through the next two-year budget period, on top of closing a shortfall in tax collections in the current budget period.

Combs’ estimate includes a prediction that tax collections will fall $4.3 billion short in this budget period. Combs’ $72.2 billion figure takes that shortfall into account.

In addition to having to meet that recession-driven shortfall, lawmakers will be working without two sources of funding that they had last time they met: unspent state fund balances and federal stimulus money.

First things first: The $4.3 billion figure refers to the 2009 biennium budget. The amount of revenue that Combs estimated at that time for the two-year period was short of what we actually collected, so the first order of business will be to appropriate money to make up that gap. How big the hole is for this biennium then becomes a matter of opinion based on how much you think the state needs to spend to pay for what it does now.

Lawmakers budgeted $87 billion in general revenue spending in the current biennium; at least $6.4 billion of that money came from federal stimulus funds which aren’t available to budget-writers this time. Public and higher education and health and human services spending accounted for $73 billion of that; without the stimulus money, that leaves just over $7 billion that’s not in those two major categories.

The comptroller’s official biennial revenue estimate sets the limit, effectively, on what lawmakers have available to spend during the two-year period that will begin in September. There’s a shortfall between what’s available and what’s needed, but estimates of the size of that shortfall depend on the size of what’s needed. For instance, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a think tank that advocates for the poor, estimates it would cost $99 billion over the next two years to maintain the services the state provides now; they put the size of the shortfall at about $27 billion. Former Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin, now with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank that advocates for small government and free markets, estimates the shortfall at “$15 or $16 billion.”

In other words, the slash-and-burn TPPF is basing the shortfall on Texas not spending any more than it did two years ago. Thing is, Texas is a growing state – you might have heard about those four shiny new Congressional seats we’re going to get because we’ve been growing like gangbusters – and with all that growth comes added expenses. Much of the state’s increased population comes from children, which means we need to spend more on schools just to keep up. A lot of it comes from lower-income folks, which means things like Medicaid and CHIP need more revenue to keep up. That’s the reality of the situation, and it’s what the Lege will have to deal with.

Now the good news is that after more than a year of declining sales tax revenue, economic indicators are pointing in the right direction again. The next two years will be better for the state, and who knows, maybe in 2013 we’ll hear that this biennium’s budget came in under cost because we took in more money than we initially thought we would. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the system we have in place now isn’t equipped to keep up with the state’s growth. Too many things are exempt from the sales tax. The property tax cut of 2006 created a structural deficit. We’re going to face many of the same problems in two years’ time even if the economy recovers to a large degree. In the meantime, we’ll be shortchanging schoolchildren and pushing the sick and the needy onto local governments.

Finally, it must be said that Combs’ figures, which you can see in detail here, stand in stark contrast to the denial and Pollyanna-ism that Rick Perry displayed all last year, as Greg and ThinkProgress document and BOR pointed out before the election. He can’t hide from it any more. For more, see statements from Rep. Mike Villarreal, Rep. Lon Burnam, and Sen. Wendy Davis; Vince has more as well.

Potential challenger for Burnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special session coming


Speaking to reporters this afternoon at a roundtable on national energy legislation, Gov. Rick Perry said there will definitely be a special legislative session. But he declined to say when, or how many issues it will include.

“We’re in the process now of making the decision,” he said.
Perry said immediately after this most recent session, he got some “bad advice” from senators that he could extend the lifeline of state agencies by executive order. At least two agencies ended the session clinging to life.

“That was blatantly bad information,” he said.

Asked about speculation that the session must take place this summer to protect Texas’ bond rating, Perry did not comment.

“Anytime there’s something that could affect the cost of doing business it’s of concern,” he said.

Obviously, if these things require the Lege to fix them, then there’s no choice. The concern, of course, is that Perry can add things like voter ID to the call. It’s possible he won’t – Burka thinks he won’t bother, but then Burka thought the Dems should have rolled over and played dead on voter ID precisely because of the Governor’s ability to force the issue in a special, so I can’t say that his opinion here reassures me. To me, the best scenario is a call that’s limited to just these issues and nothing else. Needless to say, I don’t expect the Governor to care what I think.

UPDATE: Legeland has some useful speculation on the timing of and the reason for the special session.

UPDATE: Here’s some reaction from Tarrant County. Put me down as agreeing fully with Rep. Lon Burnam.


Gov. Rick Perry broke his right collarbone Tuesday evening in a mountain biking accident near his home.

Perry also suffered a minor abrasion on his right elbow, his office said. He was taken to the emergency room at Seton Medical Center and was expected to be released Tuesday night.

This reminds me of the series premier of “The West Wing”, where President Bartlett ran his bike into a tree. Leo McGarry’s description was priceless: “The President, while bicycling, came to a sudden, arboreal stop.” All kidding aside, my best wishes to the Governor for a full and fast recovery.

Burnam drops impeachment resolution

I had wondered what would happen with Rep. Lon Burnam’s resolution to impeach Sharon Keller, given that we were coming down to the wire and there was a lot of pressing business that needed to be taken care of in a very short period of time. Now I know.

Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, today offered a “personal privilege” speech noting that his resolution calling for the impeachment of Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Sharon Keller is going nowhere this session (which ends Monday).

Burnam’s resolution has been pending since April 27 in the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee. In his speech today, Burnam said he chose not to try to use the procedure by which he could have tried to get the votes to bring the resolution to the floor despite the lack of committee action.

But he made it clear he still believes Keller should be removed from office for refusing to keep her court clerk’s office open on Sept. 25, 2007 to accept a late filing on behalf of Death Row inmate Michael Wayne Richard, who was executed later that day.


Burnam said if neither state agency causes Keller’s removal from office he’ll try again in two years if he is re-elected to the House.

Well, I certainly hope that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has taken some action by then. I know the wheels grind slowly and all, but surely that’s not too much to ask. Floor Pass has more.