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Lubbock

Here come the Rangers

I don’t know where this is going to go, but it sure will be fun getting there.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The Texas House General Investigating Committee voted Monday to request that the Texas Rangers look into allegations against House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants in the lower chamber.

The committee vote, which was unanimous, followed roughly an hour of closed-door deliberations among the five House members who serve on the panel. At issue is whether Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, offered hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan media credentials for his organization in exchange for politically targeting a list of fellow GOP members in the 2020 primaries.

[…]

State Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House committee, said Monday that the Texas Ranger’s Public Integrity Unit “will conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding” that meeting between Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows. Meyer also requested that the Texas Rangers provide a copy of its final investigative report to the committee at the end of its investigation.

See here for the background. What might happen next could get complicated.

Aside from the quid pro quo aspect of the scandal, exchanging money in the Capitol or directing expenditures from a Capitol office has been a Class A misdemeanor ever since the Legislature reacted to a 1989 public outcry over the late chicken producer Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim handing out $10,000 checks to nine senators in the Senate chamber during a hearing on workers compensation reform.

Besides the issue of whether there was bribery involved, there are also potential election law crimes, including not disclosing the source of campaign contributions directed by Bonnen. The Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against Sullivan on Thursday, alleging nine different potential criminal violations of the Texas Election Code, each a Class A misdemeanor. The lawsuit seeks to preserve evidence and damages of $100,000.

Given the potential for criminal wrongdoing, what happens next?

First, consider the dramatic changes that the Texas Legislature made to how public corruption cases are handled in Texas. Under a state law passed in 2015, the Travis County public integrity unit no longer has jurisdiction over elected officials at the Capitol. Potential criminal cases must be investigated first by the Texas Rangers. As of Thursday, the Rangers had not been asked to investigate the Bonnen/Sullivan controversy, nor had they initiated an investigation on their own, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson.

If the Rangers do investigate and decide further action is warranted, the case is referred to the home county of the public official. That means any corruption charges against Bonnen would have to be brought by the Brazoria County DA. For Burrows, it would be the Lubbock County DA. Travis County would retain jurisdiction only over Sullivan. In cases of multiple jurisdiction, the Texas attorney general’s office can take charge.

Funnily enough, Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment on securities fraud charges in his home territory of Collin County. Paxton is accused of failing to register as a securities agent as part of his private law practice. He claims he is innocent and that the case is politically motivated. Paxton counts among his allies the funders of Empower Texans. (The plot always seems to thicken in this scandal.)

You know what this would mean: Special prosecutors would be needed. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that approach. It’s almost as if abolishing the prosecutorial power of the Public Integrity Unit was a bad idea with all kinds of potentially unwanted consequences. We are getting way ahead of ourselves here, so let’s reel it in a bit and say we can’t wait to see what happens next. Ross Ramsey has more.

The main concern about voting centers

This Trib story, which is about the implementation of voting centers in multiple counties across Texas for the 2020 election, delves into one of the main concern about them: Voting centers can change from one election to the next, which could mean the closure of a location that has been in use for a long time.

Diane Trautman

The switch from precinct-based voting locations to countywide vote centers is often followed by closures and consolidations of polling places both for logistical and cost-saving reasons. Because the criteria for those changes is typically based, in part, on traffic at each voting site, community leaders and voting rights advocates are wary that could translate to more polling location closures in areas with predominantly Hispanic, black and lower-income residents, who participate in elections at lower rates than white and more affluent Texans.

“Our concern is to make sure that we increase the likelihood of people voting,” James Douglas, head of the NAACP branch in Houston, warned the Harris County Commissioner’s Court earlier this year. “This ought not be about money.”

[…]

Although provisional ballots are used to record a person’s vote when there are questions about eligibility or if a person is at the wrong precinct location, the ballots fall short of fully illustrating the scope of precinct-based voting problems because there’s no way of tracking voters who showed up at the wrong voting site and then went home without voting provisionally. But data collected by the Texas Civil Rights Project showed that the number of rejected provisional ballots cast by voters who showed up at the wrong location crept up from 2,810 in 2016 to roughly 4,230 last year in the state’s four largest counties — Harris, Dallas, Bexar and Tarrant, which are all working to transition to the vote center model.

More than half of those recorded rejections came out of Harris County, where Diane Trautman, a Democrat who was elected county clerk in 2018, moved quickly to implement vote centers and received approval to use a May municipal election as a trial run.

Trautman — like county officials in Dallas and Tarrant — has vowed to leave all existing polling locations in place through 2020. Opening up its 700 polling locations to all voters will make Harris one of the nation’s largest counties running vote centers.

Still, community leaders were troubled by a portion of the county’s written plan to make countywide voting permanent. That plan lists “voter turnout” first under the criteria to be considered for possible future polling place consolidations.

“This is going to be a question and a test for all the larger counties that are going forward” with vote centers, Trautman said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

In weighing polling place closures, counties adopting vote centers typically consider factors like turnout and Wi-Fi connectivity. Vote centers depend on e-pollbooks, which electronically record whether a voter has already cast a ballot, and must be networked with other polling sites.

In Dallas County, election officials are reviewing whether to consolidate dozens of voting sites that are serving voters from multiple precincts and what to do with polling locations that are in close proximity. Community members there warned against closures primarily based on voter turnout even if other voting sites appeared to be nearby.

“Being half a mile is not across the street. Having to cross the freeway is not across the street. We do not support the closures,” said Kimberly Olsen, political field director for the Texas Organizing Project, which advocates for communities of color and low-income Texans.

Trautman noted any changes in Harris County would be run by a community advisory committee with an eye toward preserving polling locations that traditionally serve voters of color, residents who speak different languages and people with disabilities, but it’s unlikely the county would move too far from the current number of polling locations. And she said she would not trade tradition, especially in areas where voters have cast their ballots at the same polling place for 100 years, for county cost-savings.

“We have no intention of disturbing that,” Trautman said. “I don’t care if two people voted in that location.”

As I’ve noted before, traditional polling places are often consolidated for lower-turnout elections. In Harris County, for anything other than a November-in-an-even-year race, you were always well advised to check and see what locations were open before you headed out on Election Day. In this sense, that’s nothing new. County election administrators do need to be careful, and solicit plenty of public feedback, when deciding on what locations should be used in any election. I think this is far less likely to be an issue in an election like 2020, but it will be an ongoing concern, with odd-year local elections being a particular spot for problems. Elections administrators will need to be transparent, Commissioners Courts will need to exert oversight, and the rest of us will need to pay attention. If we all do that much, we ought to be all right.

Early voting in the “next” 15 counties

As you know, there’s been a lot written about primary turnout in the top 15 counties by voter registration in Texas. Much has been said about the large increase in Democratic turnout, accompanied by the much milder increase – and in some counties, decrease – in Republican turnout when compared to 2014 and 2010. This is great, but Texas has 254 counties, and there are a lot of decent-sized metro areas that are not represented in the coverage we’ve seen, Moreover, while the top 15 counties include many blue and purplish counties, the next 15 are much more tilted to the red side. Here, by my reckoning, are those counties:

Bell (Killeen/Temple/Belton)
Lubbock
Jefferson (Beaumont)
McLennan (Waco)
Smith (Tyler)
Webb (Laredo)
Hays (San Marcos)
Brazos (Bryan/College Station)
Ellis (Waxahachie)
Guadalupe (Seguin)
Comal (New Braunfels)
Johnson (Cleburne)
Parker (Weatherford)
Randall (Amarillo)
Midland

Webb is strong Democratic; Hays and Jefferson are quasi-Democratic; the rest are varying shades of red. I wanted to know how voting was going in these counties, so off to Google I went. The best story I found in my searches came from Smith County:

Early voting ticked up among Smith County voters for the March primary, and about half of the increase came from people casting ballots for Democrats.

A total of 12,926 early ballots were cast in Smith County, according to the county’s elections division. By party, there were 10,994 ballots cast for Republicans and 1,932 cast for Democrats.

Overall, the numbers represent a 9.5 percent increase in early voting overall as compared with 2014, the last time there was a primary election for local and statewide offices but no candidate for president.

By party, the 2018 early voting numbers represent a 5.6 percent increase for Republicans, who cast 10,409 early ballots in 2014, and a 38.5 percent increase for Democrats, who cast 1,395 early ballots in 2014.

Early voting lasted approximately two weeks, from Feb. 20 through Friday. Polling places were open in five locations in Tyler, Lindale, Whitehouse and Noonday. The primary election is Tuesday.

Mark Owens, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Tyler, said much of the increase in early voters in 2018 could be attributed to an increasing population in Smith County.

The number of registered voters in Smith County is 131,007 in the 2018 primary, a 5.8 percent increase over the 123,867 registered voters at the time of the 2014 primary, according to Owens.

Owens called the early voting turnout “just on par for a growing area.” However, he credited Democrats for having an impact on the increase in early voters in conservative Smith County.

In raw numbers, 1,122 more Smith County residents voted in 2018 over 2014. Republicans accounted for 585 of those ballots, and Democrats accounted for 537 of them.

“To the Democrats’ credit, the voter mobilization efforts are stronger in the fact that this isn’t a primary with as many leading elections at the top of the ticket, so they would see it, from their perspective, of people wanting to vote for (their candidates),” Owens said.

“A really big part of it is candidates coming out to East Texas to listen and encouraging people to go vote,” Owens said. “I think if you look at the numbers, that means something to people.”

I’d call that encouraging. Dems are still vastly outnumbered, but they showed up and increased their totals over 2014. Indeed, the total number of votes cast in the Democratic primary in 2014 was 2,328, so early voting turnout there came close to matching that by itself.

That’s about as good as it gets in terms of being specific. This Lubbock story is pretty representative:

Heading into the last day of early voting for the 2018 primaries, the Associated Press reported that Texas had already set a non-presidential cycle record for the number of people turning out. Before Friday, more than 583,000 Texans in the 15 largest counties had cast early ballots in person, which was already more than the then-record of nearly 510,000 who did so during early voting for 2014′s midterm election.

In Lubbock County there were 15,430 total ballots cast during the 11 days of early voting. That means about 9 percent of registered voters took advantage of the early voting period.

About 400 more votes in Lubbock county were actually cast this year than during early voting in 2014, the last midterm election. This year’s total is about 8,700 votes less than in 2010. During the last primary in 2016, more than 25,000 votes were cast in early voting.

[…]

The Lubbock County Elections Office hasn’t yet released the separate vote totals for the Republican and Democratic primaries.

Some of these places make you downright wistful for Stan Stanart. Here’s Hays County:

As of Feb. 26, 4,658 early votes have been accounted for at seven different locations spread across the county. This does not account for the nearly 2,000 votes submitted to the county by mail.

In total, around 6,600 have been counted for, shattering the numbers from previous election cycles in 2014 and 2016.

According to Hays County numbers, roughly 4,500 people voted early in the November Presidential 2016 election, while only 1,768 early votes were counted in November 2014 race.

“We’ve had a very high turnout considering the political season we are in,” said Jennifer Anderson, elections administrator for Hays County. “Democratic turnout has been good and that is to be expected considering the national swing we had with the Presidential election.”

[…]

So far, roughly 53 percent of the early voting population voted in the Republican Primary, while 46 percent of the early votes took part in the Democratic Primary.

At least that’s something to go on. In 2014, 8,521 votes were cast in the Republican primary for Governor (this isn’t the same as turnout, since people do undervote in individual races, but I can’t get to the Hays County elections page as I write this, so it will have to do), compared to 3,131 votes in the Dem primary for Governor. If the split this year is something like 53-46, then the Dem share is up by a lot. That’s very good to see.

From Comal County:

Registered voters in Comal and Guadalupe counties have their last chance to cast early ballots today for candidates competing in Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic primary elections.

Voters in both counties flocked to the polls during the 12-day early voting period, which began Feb. 20. Through last Tuesday, 5,654 Comal County residents — about 6 percent of the county’s 95,353 registered voters — had cast early ballots, running ahead of the number and percentage of registered voters who turned out in the 2014 midterm elections.

The rest is behind a paywall. Comal is deep red – think Montgomery County-deep red – so this will be worth watching. In 2014, there were 14,458 Republican primary gubernatorial votes, and 1,647 Democratic votes, so you can see what I mean. Neighboring Guadalupe County has a bit more detail:

Guadalupe County Elections Administrator Lisa Adam said area residents have slowly begun increasing their presence at the polls.

“Our numbers this week have already been higher than in the 2014 gubernatorial primary,” she said. “The first week’s numbers for this year were a little lower than they were in 2014. This week we are actually ahead than the second week of early voting in 2014; not by leaps and bounds, but we are ahead.”

[…]

“In the 2014 primary, we had 81,217 registered voters,” she said. “Right now, as of Feb. 1 we have 95,717. We’ve come a long way. We’re adding 300 to 400 registered voters a month. The growth our county is experiencing is incredible.”

In that election cycle, the county saw 14.2 percent of the voting population turn out for the Republican Primary and 2.1 percent for the Democratic Primary, Adam said.

1,688 Dem gubernatorial primary votes, 11,196 Republican. Again, there’s lots of room to grow here.

Brazos County:

Early voting before the March 6 primaries wrapped up Friday with 5,933 Brazos County voters casting ballots.

Most of those, 4,144, came from Republicans, and 1,789 Democrats voted early. The total for the two-week early voting period was helped by a push of 1,467 voters Friday. There are about 105,000 registered voters in the county.

That’s burying the lede here. In the 2014 gubernatorial primary there were 1,927 total Dem votes, and 10,665 total Rep votes. In other words, Dems are way up. Republicans, not so much.

For McLennan County, I turn to my friend Carmen Saenz:

Final numbers for 2018 early voting in McLennan County primary:
Dems: 3054 – 28% of total
GOP: 7778 – 72% of total

Relative to 2014 early voting in the McLennan County primary:
Dems 1085 – 18% of total
GOP 4940 – 82% of total

Although there is a 181.5% increase in the number of Dems voting and only a 57.5% increase in GOP, with an overall increase of 80% these numbers say a lot about the McLennan County Democratic Party.

In a lot of the counties, we’ve seen Dem numbers up a lot with Republican numbers not up much if at all. Both are up here, which makes McLennan a bit of an outlier.

The city of Amarillo is in both Randall and Potter counties. I didn’t find a good story for Randall County, but I did find this for Potter:

In Potter County, there have been 4,940 votes in-person and mail-in since Feb 27. That number is expected to increase by seven tonight, at the end of early voting.

In the 2016 Presidential Primaries, there were 5,284 early votes cast in Potter County.
Breaking down the numbers even further, 4,128 Republicans cast their vote in Potter County, during early voting.

That has surpassed the numbers from the 2016 election, which topped out at 4,031 votes. The Democrats have cast 821 votes, slightly less than 2016 early voting at 988.

That’s 2016. If you look at 2014, there were 810 total votes cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. So yeah, it’s up.

Last but not least, Midland County:

The elections offices in Midland and Ector County has seen a dip in voter turnout this early voting season.

As of Friday afternoon in Ector County, election officials counted 5,300 voters.

There are over 74,000 registered voters in Ector County.

[…]

As of Friday morning in Midland County, the total number ballots counted was a little over 6,200.

There are over 81,000 registered voters in Midland County.

2014 gubernatorial primaries:

Ector County – 1,320 Dems, 7,778 Republicans
Midland County – 960 Dems, 12,640 Republicans

If there’s a downward trend in these places, it’s probably not because of the Dems.

I’ll return to this later in the week. For now, this is where we stand.

The bathroom bill is a threat to Quidditch

How much more do you need to know?

It’s not quite time to get out the broomsticks in Round Rock. A national quidditch tournament headed to town next year has been put on hold while legislators consider the bathroom bill during their special session, said Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan.

U.S. Quidditch recently told the city that it wasn’t going to sign a contract to come to Round Rock until it finds out what happens with the bathroom bill, Morgan said. He said he couldn’t provide further details.

The city announced in early July that the U.S. Quidditch Cup 11 would April 14-15, 2018, at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex.

[…]

If the city starts losing big tournaments because of the bathroom bill, Morgan said, it could have an effect on taxpayers who voted to allocate a half-cent of the sales tax for property tax relief.

“If events start leaving I think we will have to increase taxes or cut services if it becomes a big enough impact,” said Morgan.

Here’s the news story of the announcement that the 2018 Cup would be held in Round Rock, and here’s the US Quidditch webpage about it. Note that Wichita Falls will host the Southwest Regional Championship in partnership with Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau on February 24-25, 2018, and also that Lubbock – specifically, the West Rec Grass and Turf Complex Fields at Texas Tech University – was the runnerup to Round Rock for the finals. (It was not mentioned in this story if the Wichita Falls event is also in peril, but one assumes so.) My daughters and I saw a Quidditch match at Rice a couple of years ago, with teams from colleges around the country. It’s maybe not quite as exciting as it is in the books and movies, but it’s got a following. And it’s in danger of being taken away by our ongoing potty wars. If you’re a Quidditch fan or a concerned Round Rock taxpayer, you should reach out to Rep. Larry Gonzales and Sen. Charles Schwertner and tell them not to kill off this event.

Mayors to Abbott: Don’t mess with our cities

Good luck getting through.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott blasted local government restrictions like tree ordinances as a threat to the “Texas brand,” city government leaders statewide are seeking a meeting with the Republican leader.

“We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role cities play in attracting jobs and investments to support the prosperity of the State of Texas,” a letter signed by 18 mayors, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner to Abbott states.

[…]

The letter from the mayors makes clear that they fear the Texas Legislature is overreaching and doing too much harm to local governments.

“Harmful proposals such as revenue and spending caps, limiting annexation authority, and other measures preempting local development ordinances directly harm our ability to plan for future growth and continue to serve as the economic engines of Texas,” the letter states.

The mayors on the letter include those from Houston, Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Frisco, Galveston, Irving, Lubbock, McKinney, Plano, San Antonio, San Marcos, and Sugar Land.

You can see the letter here. You might note that some of the cities in question are Republican suburban kind of places. It’s not just us smug urbanites that would like to have our current level of autonomy left alone. I’m going to say the same thing to these Mayors that I’ve been saying to the business folk that have been working to defeat the bathroom bill, and that’s that they are going to have to follow up all these words with actions, because Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t care what they have to say. If you’re not working to elect better leadership in 2018, which in this case means leadership that is not actively undermining and degrading Texas’ cities, then you’re part of the problem too, and your words have no meaning. The Current and the Press have more.

Guardianship

An eye-opening story in the Observer on a subject many of us probably never think about.

Guardianship is the state’s last-ditch tool to protect people from neglect or abuse, and although it saves lives, it can be a blunt instrument. More than 53,000 Texans, most of them elderly or intellectually disabled, are under a guardianship today. Some could never make their own decisions; others, in the eyes of a friend or family member, have been making decisions that are dangerously wrong. In either case, the remedy is the same: Their legal rights transfer to a person of the court’s choosing. Proponents credit guardianship for celebrity success stories such as Britney Spears, whose life and career regained stability after her father won the legal authority to step in. But guardianship is in the news much more often for its abuses.

Guardianships are increasingly common, a trend typically attributed to an aging populace and scattered families. In Texas, the number of guardianships grew 60 percent from 2011 to 2015. Nearly $3 billion in personal wealth is under control of guardians in Texas, according to one recent estimate from state researchers. But even those who oversee the system and write its laws are only recently coming around to a troubling fact: In much of Texas, there is nobody watching these cases.

Ten large Texas counties run their own guardianship systems, with legally trained probate judges, court-appointed investigators and visitors — employees or volunteers who check up on people under guardianship — to ensure that a guardianship is still necessary and isn’t being used as a tool for abuse or theft. Dallas County, where Rosamond had lived for most of her life, has such a system. But she was in Lubbock County when her son Phil went to court. Lubbock County reported having 1,425 guardianships in August 2015, ranking eighth in the state both in total guardianships and guardianships per capita. The county has no system to ensure that guardians file required annual reports on the person they’re looking after, nor staff to check for evidence of fraud.

For the last 17 years, the man charged with running the local guardianship system has been Tom Head, a Republican best known outside Lubbock for his one fateful appearance on local TV. Though he hasn’t seen fit to pay for court staff to protect his most vulnerable citizens, Head has not been averse to raising taxes in the past. In 2012, to cite one popular example, he proposed a tax hike to protect Lubbock from President Obama and the United Nations.

“He is going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N.,” Head told a local Fox affiliate. “What’s going to happen when that happens? I’m thinking worst-case scenario: civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war, maybe. And we’re not talking just a few riots here and demonstrations. We’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.”

In recent years Lubbock has come to epitomize the dangers of guardianship when nobody’s watching. As Rosamond Bradley recovered and tried in vain to have her rights restored, courts in Lubbock and nearby counties placed more than 50 people who did need protection in the care of strangers who lived hundreds of miles away, visited rarely, and walked off with their money. Lubbock has particularly weak oversight. Last fall, state investigators began a survey that is revealing a lack of accountability and potential for abuse all over Texas. Several years ago, Lubbock conducted a similar self-audit, but after briefly reckoning with its shortcomings, the county’s guardianship system appears as ill-equipped as ever.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. As is so often the case, the problem is one part lack of money and one part lack of attention. Lubbock County is a particular trouble spot thanks in part to its lousy County Judge, but the Legislature bears some responsibility as well for the overall lack of oversight on guardianships despite the efforts of Sen. Judith Zaffirini to improve things. This is another one of those places where our state’s oft-expressed concern about the sanctity of life falls well short. Anyway, read it and see what you think. And if you have a family member who may be in need of a guardian – which let’s face it could be you or me some day – give some thought as to how you would want to see that handled. That’s your best line of defense against abuses happening.

Lubbock to consider rideshare ordinance

You know what that means.

Uber

Uber drivers may soon be required to have background checks and operational permits in the city of Lubbock, a move that in the past has prompted the company to pull out of some Texas cities.

Uber is a technology company that provides a mobile phone app connecting riders with drivers. The company launched in Lubbock in late June 2014. With Uber’s app, riders can ask a driver to pick them up and take them where they need to go, with all transactions done over the phone.

Councilwoman Karen Gibson has been working with city staff to update the city code of ordinances to account for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, which she said have been operating illegally in the city since their inception.

It’s an issue officials at Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport say they also hope to tackle, as Uber drivers currently aren’t being asked to follow the same rules as licensed cab and limo services, said Kelly Campbell, administrative director at the airport.

After multiple discussions since stakeholders — including representatives from Uber, local taxi companies, police and city officials — first met in July 2014, Gibson said she intends to introduce an amending ordinance at the second City Council meeting in April that puts similar restrictions on transportation network companies as to those already placed on local taxi and limo companies.

“It’s more of a blanket ordinance that encompasses everybody. If they want to operate under that blanket, they will be able to operate here,” she said. “This is necessary for public safety. We live in a college town, we’ve got moms and dads in Dallas sending their daughter here and they expect us to make sure it’s safe.”

[…]

The city’s code states taxi and limo drivers must apply for an operator’s permit, furnish the city a sufficient performance bond, make sure the car is inspected, have a background check and minimum liability insurance of $50,000.

The amended ordinance will place transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft under the same guidelines as the other businesses.

“We’ve been following everything from coast to coast that’s been going on with these new market models,” Harris said. “We’re trying to find out a good way to address those types of industries within our code and allow them to operate, basically, legally.”

A spokesperson for Uber declined to comment to A-J Media until the company is able to review the ordinance.

But looking at cities that have passed similar regulations, Uber’s typical response has simply been to leave.

See here and here for more on the places Uber has recently abandoned. Of interest here is that the word “fingerprint” doesn’t appear anywhere in this story. That’s been a point of conflict in other cities, but it’s not the only one. In the first link from that previous sentence, I solicited a statement from Uber that said they had “made the difficult decision to cease operations in every city that has adopted new laws that require similarly​ duplicative r​egulations on drivers”, which was a reference to the Houston ordinance. They cited “Beaumont, San Marcos, College Station, and Abilene” as the cities they want others to emulate. That doesn’t sound like what Lubbock is doing, so we can expect Uber to respond as they have in cities like Corpus, which is to say they will close up shop. (Though now apparently COrpus is reconsidering.] We’ll see how it goes.

More on voting centers

I’ll be interested to see how this goes in Galveston.

vote-button

Just in time for the November election, Galveston County has launched the first mobile app of its kind in the state, called “Galveston Votes.” It uses GPS to direct people with lightning speed to the closest voting center.

Fort Bend County in November will make its first foray into using “voting centers” that are open to all voters county-wide, rather than restricting them to their neighborhood precinct.

Montgomery and Harris counties are studying whether to do the same thing.

These efforts are part of a growing trend to counter Texas’ low voter turnout – ranked nationally in 2014 third from the bottom. More and more counties across the state are moving toward using these voting centers. They are looking for any way they can to make voting more accessible and entice voters to the polls.

The centers, which can be located anywhere from grocery stores to shopping malls, may be used by any eligible voter within a county. Voters will no longer be restricted to one precinct site.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says the possible advantages include convenience, financial savings and increase in turnout. Possible drawbacks include a loss of the tradition of neighborhood voting, confusion if the scheme isn’t properly explained to voters and the cost of new equipment and technology.

[…]

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart plans to test new infrastructure at a few polling locations during the primary next March that could be used for future voting centers.

But Stanart warns that converting a county as large as Harris, with its 4.3 million people and 769 polling stations, would be logistically challenging and costly. Each polling station has to be electronically linked to update in “real time” the names of those who are voting at various stations.

“We do that now in early voting with 41 stations, but don’t have the ability to do 769 yet,” he said.

About 13 percent of all Texas counties are now using county-wide voting centers and the number keeps rising, said Alicia Pierce, spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State, who said many voters enjoy the convenience it affords.

“I live in Travis County, where they have adopted this system, and was able to cast my vote at a Fiesta store while getting groceries,” she said.

While the centers have proven convenient, the state is continuing to assess their impact on turnout.

See here, here, and here for some background. Fort Bend (as noted in the last link) is implementing voting centers for this election, which will have some effect on the Mayor’s race since there are a few thousand Houston voters in Fort Bend. Voting centers basically replicate the early voting experience on Election Day – there are a smaller number of locations, but you can use any of them – though this story makes it sound like there could be a lot more of them than the traditional early voting places, at locations that aren’t currently used. It would be nice to have a better idea of how many voting centers there are compared to EV locations and traditional polling places. Enough counties in Texas are doing this already, that data ought to be readily available.

As for claims that voting centers will help increase turnout, I’m skeptical. There is concern (again, in that last link above) that it could have the opposite effect, partly due to voter confusion, and partly due to vote centers not being as close to or as convenient for voters with mobility issues. I’ve said before that I believe these obstacles can be overcome, with sufficient outreach and care in the selection of vote center sites – perhaps some existing precinct voting locations can be used as vote centers – but the concerns need to be taken seriously. It’s not out of the question that if done poorly, vote centers could increase turnout in affluent areas while depressing it in lower income and minority neighborhoods, which would be completely unacceptable. Vote centers have existed in Texas since 2005, with 23 counties currently employing them and nine more piloting them this fall. We really should have some hard data by now to show the effect of this idea. Again, it would be nice to know more. I support the idea behind voting centers, but I’d like to know that we’ve been doing them right.

How many crimes does your police department solve?

Fewer than you think, unfortunately.

go_to_jail

Violent crime in America has been falling for two decades. That’s the good news. The bad news is, when crimes occur, they mostly go unpunished.

In fact, for most major crimes, police don’t even make an arrest or identify a suspect. That’s what police call “clearing” a crime; the “clearance rate” is the percentage of offenses cleared.

In 2013, the national clearance rate for homicide was 64 percent, and it’s far lower for other violent offenses and property crimes.

University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford says police have shifted priorities over the decades.

“In the ’60s and ’70s, no one thought that the police should be held responsible for how much crime there was,” Wellford says. Back then, he adds, police focused on calls for service and solving crimes.

In more recent years, he says, police have been pushed to focus more on prevention, which has taken precedence over solving crimes — especially non-violent offenses.

In short, the falling crime rate we’ve enjoyed may come at a cost: police indifference when you report your stereo was stolen.

I admit, that wouldn’t have occurred to me. I would have thought that with less crime, police departments would be more able to solve the crimes that were committed, since there would be less of a workload. I’m not a criminologist and I haven’t read any research on this, but my initial reaction here is to be a little skeptical. In what ways are police departments focused on crime prevention, and what evidence is there that those methods are working? My gut says that police departments these days – really, for the past thirty or so years – have concentrated on drug-related crimes. While I would agree that there’s some ancillary prevention benefit in that, we all know that this comes with a variety of costs. Maybe the national effort to decriminalize some drug offenses will have the benefit of allowing police departments to once again focus on solving the crimes that really do victimize the public.

The article comes with a utility to look up the crime clearance rates in your own community. Here’s what it showed for some of Texas’ biggest cities:

All violent crime Homicide Property crime City 2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013 ====================================================================== Houston 46% 39% 37% 90% 70% 76% 13% 12% 11% Abilene 47% 49% 64% 80% 100% 100% 25% 22% 20% Amarillo 40% 45% 48% 60% 100% 44% 18% 19% 22% Austin 49% 49% 57% 93% 87% 100% 12% 12% 13% Beaumont 70% 70% 69% 100% 100% 75% 23% 28% 27% Corpus Christi 54% 53% 45% 67% 63% 100% 20% 23% 19% Dallas 38% 40% 37% 65% 58% 60% 13% 11% 11% El Paso 48% 47% 49% 88% 96% 80% 18% 20% 22% Fort Worth 36% 38% 39% 61% 80% 86% 14% 16% 17% Laredo 80% 80% 79% 64% 88% 100% 20% 24% 28% Lubbock 30% 32% 34% 50% 73% 100% 15% 15% 19% McAllen 56% 66% 38% 50% 100% 0% 20% 22% 16% Midland 66% 68% 59% 100% 75% 40% 22% 25% 27% Plano 54% 51% 47% 80% 100% 100% 22% 22% 19% San Antonio 48% 36% 37% 80% 70% 75% 12% 11% 12% Waco 56% 56% 55% 91% 67% 50% 23% 23% 26%

Note that these are all for the above-named cities’ municipal police departments. I limited myself to cities that I could think of that had a population of at least 100,000. (Galveston, in case you were wondering, has about 48,000 people.) “Violent crime” includes “Murder and non-negligent manslaughter”, which I characterize above as “Homicide”, “Robbery”, and “Aggravated assault”. “Property Crime” includes “Burglary”, “Larceny-theft”, “Motor vehicle theft”, and “Arson”.

Don’t be too mesmerized by the Homicide solve rates for smaller cities. The total annual number for these crimes in cities of, say, 100,000 to 200,000, is often in the single digits. McAllen, for example, had 4 homicides in 2011, one in 2012, and two in 2013. In a few cases, such as Beaumont for 2011 and 2012, the number of murders solved was greater than the number of murders. My guess is that the solved crimes included cold cases, but there was no explanation on the site. I just listed those as 100% to avoid weirdness.

What stands out to me in all this is that generally speaking the smaller cities had much better solve rates for property crimes than the big cities. In Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, the solve rates for property crimes never topped 13%, but in the smaller cities it ranged from 18% to 28%. Fort Worth and Lubbock were the outliers there, on the low end. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it sure is interesting.

What application does this have to the 2015 Mayor’s race? (You knew I was going to get around to that, I’m sure.) Well, in addition to my wish that the candidates will eventually start to talk about public safety in a more comprehensive way, I’d think that a candidate who promised to have his police force concentrate on solving property crimes might be able to sway a voter or two. Lord knows, the Nextdoor discussion list for the greater Heights area spends a lot of time on break-ins and thefts and the like. Given how many of these crimes do go unsolved today, it seems to me there’s some traction to be gained on this issue. Just a thought.

Wait, there’s another special Senate election coming up?

Yes, there is. And you thought (okay, I had thought) SD04 was the last election till November.

Robert Duncan

The field is taking shape for the special election next month in Senate District 28, with at least five people announcing they’re running to replace Robert Duncan, who stepped down to lead the Texas Tech University System.

The filing deadline was 5 p.m. Friday, and the secretary of state’s office plans to release an official list of candidates later this week. Among those who’ve said they’ve filed: Republican state Rep. Charles Perry; Jodey Arrington, a former Texas Tech official and adviser to President George W. Bush; former Sweetwater Mayor Greg Wortham, a Democrat; former state Rep. Delwin Jones, the Republican whom Perry unseated in 2010; and Wolfforth resident Epifanio Garza.

Perry and Arrington are the early favorites, with both men getting into the race relatively early and each heading into July with about $200,000 in the bank. They’re expected to vie for GOP voters, with Perry tapping the tea party support he received during his run for the state House.

Last month, Gov. Rick Perry announced the election will be held Sept. 9, surprising some local Republicans who assumed he’d schedule it for November. Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said he picked the earlier date to ensure the winner could be sworn in before the beginning of the legislative session, even if a runoff occurs.

“Senate District 28 will gain seniority this way,” said Carl Tepper, chairman of the Lubbock County Republican Party. “This gives our guy a little of an advantage heading in to the session.”

Remember how long it took Perry to get around to scheduling the SD06 special election after the death of Mario Gallegos? God forbid a Republican Senate seat should sit open one minute longer than necessary.

This is a Republican seat, but unlike in SD04 there is a Democrat running, and if you read this profile of Greg Wortham, you’ll agree that he’s a Democrat worth supporting. Bill White scored 28.74% in SD28 in 2010, which needless to say isn’t close to winning but which ought to be good enough to get into a runoff. I don’t know how active Battleground Texas is in Lubbock – unfortunately, a Google search of “Battleground Texas Lubbock” and a look at the Lubbock County Democratic Party webpage and Facebook page don’t provide much fodder for optimism – but to whatever extent they hope to gig turnout for Wendy Davis and the rest of the Democratic ticket in November, they have a great opportunity to field test their methods next month, in the service of maybe getting a good Democrat into a special election runoff. I hope they take advantage of it.

More schools join the lawsuits

Lubbock:

The Lubbock Independent School District announced Monday they will join the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition in an equity lawsuit against the state.

Simply put, LISD is receiving less money per student because they are one of the poorest districts, and LISD claims that is unfair.

LISD officials say the district currently receives $4,600 per student, where as Austin districts receive nearly $6,500 per student. Now they are joining 300 other Texas Schools and taking their case to the courtroom.

“We remain constant in the 2005-2006 school year in terms of revenue. This past legislative session we were cut well over $13, almost $14 million dollars,” said LISD Superintendent Dr. Karen Garza.

LISD says with those cuts from Austin, standards increased. For instance, The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills Test will now be replaced with the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness or STAAR test. LISD says that requires students to have more math and science with less money.

“It’s largely contingent upon the legislature that eventually needs to fix some of the challenges and the issue in the ways schools are funded in the state of Texas,” said Garza.

Abilene:

The Abilene Independent School District board of trustees voted unanimously Monday night to join more than 20 other school districts in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ school funding system.

“No fundamental change in the education system has ever occurred without going to the courts for relief,” said Stan Lambert, board president.

[…]

The board voted to join a coalition of more than 20 school districts — including Fort Worth ISD, Austin ISD, Houston ISD and Katy ISD — being represented by Houston law firm Thompson & Horton LLP.

Lambert said the firm’s David Thompson argued a similar case before the Texas Supreme Court six years ago and won some small changes in the education funding system.

Lambert said the lawsuit was necessary because the state’s education funding system was fundamentally broken.

There are more than 1,000 school districts in Texas, and Lambert said he expected more than half of them to join the lawsuit by the time it is filed.

“We felt it was important for us to do our part,” Lambert said.

So that’s one more district for each of the known lawsuits; the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition has already filed its suit, while the Thompson suit is still in the works. At this point I’m more interested in the reasons why a given district would not be suing rather than why they are.

Where KBH and Medina did best, where White did worst

I’ve been poking around the county by county results in the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries to see what might be of interest. Here’s what I’ve found.

– Debra Medina carried three counties: Zavala, Crane, and Carson. There only 16 GOP primary votes cast in Zavala, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in that; Crane, with 457 votes total, isn’t much different. What was curious about Carson was that Rick Perry came in third, with a puny 10.31% of the 1,098 votes cast. Anyone have any idea what the deal was in Carson County? Oh, and while Medina pulled a respectable 36.31% in her home county of Wharton, that was only good for second place, behind KBH and her 40.51%. Her best showing in a big county was Tarrant, with 23.28%; Rick Perry won it but did not get a majority there, with 47.57%.

– KBH did her one better and carried four counties: Sterling, Concho, Wilbarger, and Menard. That’ll make for a great trivia question some day. By my count, she did better than Rick Perry in 28 counties, the largest of which was Tom Green – 61,983 voters, but only 9,939 votes cast; she got 45.88%. Her best showing in a large county was in Lubbock, with 39.05%, but Perry still got a majority there, as Medina barely broke 10%. In Harris County, Rick Perry won a majority in every one of the 25 State Rep districts. It’s really hard to overstate how much her performance sucked in this race.

– Bill White failed to win a majority in only 17 counties, of which Maverick had the most votes cast, with 5,470. He won at least a plurality in all of them, the curious case of Montague County having been resolved. His worst showing in a big county was in Lubbock, with 53.26%, though “big” is a relative term here, as more Democratic votes were cast in Maverick and Jim Wells, both of which are about one-fifth the size of Lubbock. (Trivia alert: Star Locke had his best showing in Lubbock County, where he finished third. You’re welcome.) White’s worst showing in a county with five-digit turnout was Webb, where he won 56.82% of the 27,689 votes cast. It was a similar story in some of the other heavily Hispanic counties, such as Cameron (57.64%), Hidalgo (60.01%) and El Paso (58.66%), where Farouk Shami had made some inroads and won almost 29% of the vote. He’s got some room for growth there. In Harris County, White got at least 90% of the vote in every State Rep district except for four – HDs 139, 140, 143, and 145. In HD134, he got an eye-popping 96.13%, which may be the most amazing result I’ve ever seen. Finally, he balanced out those 17 non-majority counties with 19 where he topped that 90% mark, including Harris and neighboring counties Brazoria, Montgomery, and Fort Bend.

I’ll have more precinct and county results in the coming days. Let me know what you think.

If Lubbock can do it, so can Luling

The little town of Luling is looking to follow in Lubbock’s footsteps and allow alcohol sales.

For some towns, being dry is part of the local character: The absence of alcohol reflects the particular values of the community. For others, dry laws are relics of Prohibition, waiting to be overturned.

Stuart Carter thinks Luling falls into the latter category. Carter and his wife, Rosine, are co-chairs of Luling Citizens for Economic Growth, an organization responsible for a referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot to allow the sale of liquor throughout town.

They and others who signed the petition to get the matter on the ballot say allowing mixed-drink sales will help spur development.

Carter points out that Luling isn’t actually dry right now. The sale of beer is allowed, and liquor sales are permitted in the portion of town that lies in Guadalupe County.

“We already have drinking,” he said. “We already have a liquor store.”

And judging from the rest of the story, it sounds like the rest of the city will be able to have those things as well. Good luck, y’all.

Lubbock gets officially wet

You may recall that the city of Lubbock voted to overturn its prohibition on alcohol this May, ending its long history of being America’s largest dry city (the vote was for the whole county, but still). Well, the citizens of Lubbock have been waiting since then for the Texas Alcoholic Beverages Commission to approve permits so that the booze can actually be sold. This week, those permits finally came, and the good times started rolling.

Beer trucks fanned out across Lubbock Wednesday morning making their first deliveries to grocers and other new alcohol retailers in the newly “wet” city.

And the demand, it appears, was bigger than distributors’ ability to reach everybody Wednesday.

“We couldn’t guarantee product in all nine stores today because of the demand on the distributors,” said Eddie Owens, director of corporate communications for United Supermarkets. “Everyone wanted the product at the same time.”

“Everyone,” as it turned out, added up to 83 retail locations that received permits from the Lubbock office of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. That included a mixed beverage permit for a bar and a restaurant mixed beverage permit.

“This was new for us,” Owens said, noting that United had never before dealt with a “reset” – rearranging store design to accommodate a new product – for all nine of its local stores at the same time.

Although there may not have been enough beer to go around, at least there was a lot of beer out there.

Wine fanciers weren’t so fortunate, however. Lubbock has no local wine distributors, so shipments come from elsewhere in the state.

Owens said that on the first day, only United’s Market Street locations had wine, and a small selection at that.

I’m sure that will improve over time. Here’s mud in your eye, Lubbock.

Don’t sell that beer just yet in Lubbock

It’s always something.

It will be eight weeks or more before shoppers see beer and wine in grocers’ coolers as stores line up to receive state alcohol permits.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission will issue permits to sell alcohol throughout Lubbock County after voters overwhelming approved two propositions expanding alcohol sales during Saturday’s county-wide election.

But questions about Lubbock’s zoning ordinances could further slow the process of opening the city up to alcohol retailers.

Challenging the city’s alcohol zoning ordinances, Pinkie’s and Majestic Liquor, which own the liquor stores at The Strip, last week filed a lawsuit against the city of Lubbock and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission claiming the ordinances violate state law. The Lubbock City Council approved alcohol zoning ordinances in November 2008 in anticipation of Saturday’s vote.

Anti-alcohol PAC Truth About Alcohol Sales co-chairman Josh Allen said while he’s not involved in the suit, he does not “believe the City Council has much of an ordinance to stand on.”

He described the zoning ordinances, which use specific language regulating alcohol sales in Lubbock’s West Broadway District, and set a city standard for floor space and percentage of sales allowed of alcohol retailers, as contradictory to TABC regulations.

The liquor stores asked 237th District Judge Sam Medina to bar the city from issuing the necessary paperwork to obtain alcoholic beverage permits until an agreement can be reached on the wording of the ordinance. An Avalanche-Journal story last week reported Medina will consider at a hearing later this month whether to grant an injunction.

Here’s that earlier story.

The suit has nothing to do with whether alcohol should be sold in Lubbock, but rather who can sell it where, said Zach Brady, attorney for the stores.

“As far as we’re concerned, the citizens are going to decide whether we have alcohol sales in Lubbock,” Brady said. “But if we do choose to have those sales, my clients want to make sure that the rules are fair and that they comply with state law.”

The city council approved last December changes to the city ordinances defining where alcohol could be sold in anticipation of Saturday’s vote. Lubbock overstepped its authority when the council limited the size of package stores and specified what types of businesses could sell alcohol in the same area, Brady said.

The liquor stores asked 237th District Judge Sam Medina to bar the city from issuing the necessary paperwork to obtain alcoholic beverage permits until an agreement can be reached on the wording of the ordinance.

Cities do have options for zoning under the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, but the ordinances they establish cannot conflict with the state law, Brady said.

“What they’ve chosen to do is not among their options,” he said. “What they can’t do, expressly under the code, is to discriminate among the different classes of alcohol retailers. They can’t let one type of business sell alcohol in a given area and not let another type of business locate in that area.”

Obviously, the current setup is a better deal for the existing liquor retailers than whatever comes next will be. I’ve no idea what the merits of their suit are, but I can’t blame them for taking this step to protect their business. We’ll see what the judge thinks. Be sure to read this Texas Monthly feature, in the May edition, about the environment in Lubbock leading up to the vote as well.

There is now beer in Lubbock

Someone pour me a cold one!

Lubbock County voters overwhelmingly approved two ballot propositions expanding alcohol sales in the county during a countywide election that ended Saturday.

Proposition 1, which expands packaged alcohol sales in the county, passed by a nearly 2-1 margin with 64.5 percent in favor.

Proposition 2 to allow mixed-drink sales in restaurants passed with about 69.5 percent in favor.

[…]

The early voting numbers sparked excitement at pro-alcohol expansion Political Action Committee Lubbock County Wins’ watch party at the Hawthorn Inn and Suites.

“There were lots of cheers in the room and relief that the results were in our favor,” the PAC’s chairwoman, Melissa Pierce, said when early voting results came up on the television screen in the hotel’s conference room.

“I expected it to be very, very close” she said, but explained she would have preferred to see a larger voter turnout.

Only 35 percent of the county’s 144,910 registered voters cast ballots.

But Pierce said she wasn’t surprised by what looks like Lubbock County voters’ approval of the propositions.

“I think Lubbock is a progressive city and we’re ready for this,” the stay-at-home mom said.

I don’t know about the “progressive” part, but let’s not quibble over semantics. It’s a good day for beer drinkers in Lubbock. Congrats, y’all.

In Lubbock, there is no beer

I remember as a freshman in college staying in Lubbock overnight while driving across Texas and learning what a “dry county” is. That didn’t stop us from having a few brews – we just had to cross the county line to buy them first. I thought at the time that was a dumb way to live, but whatever. Regardless, it pleases me to learn that among other things up for election this May is a local referendum in Lubbock that would allow the sale of alcohol in stores. I can respect the argument against, though I disagree with it, and in the case of the guy who says that allowing alcohol sales in Lubbock would be a reduction in freedom because then the state would be the controlling authority and not the county, I don’t understand it. I’m still rooting for the pro-beer forces to win, because that’s just the kind of guy I am. Good luck, y’all.