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Mark White

Andrew White

We’ll see about this.

Andrew White

Houston investor Andrew White—the son of the late Texas governor Mark White and one of the small boat heroes of Hurricane Harvey—plans to launch an exploratory bid for governor in the 2018 elections this week. Although White wants to run as a Democrat, he aims to appeal to moderate Republicans who are frustrated with the state’s leadership on issues like the bathroom bill.

“What we’re trying to do is look beyond the issues and try to figure out who are the people leading us,” White says. “What kind of people are leading us? Are they people who are politically expedient, making short-sighted decisions? Are they people who are appealing to fringe elements of their party, the 200,000 to 300,000 fringe voters in their primary who represent less than 1 percent of the population of Texas, or are they willing to stand up and do what’s right?”

White says his favorite phrase is, “Do right and risk consequences,” the motto of Sam Houston. White’s father used that as part of a speech urging the Legislature to raise taxes during a 1986 financial crisis. Lawmakers raised taxes to prevent making drastic cuts to public schools, higher education, and social services, but it cost then-governor White his re-election bid.

“It worked out for the people of Texas. It didn’t work out for his career,” White says of his dad. “That’s the problem here. We have to have politicians who are willing to lose their job to do what’s right.”

The best example of that dearth, White says, is the so-called bathroom bill. When Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick forced a special session, Governor Greg Abbott put it on the agenda. Supporters of the bill, which ultimately died in the special session, said it would keep predatory men out of women’s restrooms, but it was largely seen as an attempt to discriminate against transgender individuals and as a political swipe at the LGBTQ community. Abbott and Patrick have not ruled out resurfacing the issue in any future special session or when the Legislature reconvenes in its 2019 regular session.

“The moderate Republicans are looking at their leaders and finding out they don’t represent their beliefs,” White says. “The old Republican party was pro-business and pro-jobs and ‘keep the government off my back.’ So what’s the bathroom bill? It’s an over-reaching government program to tell you that you need to bring your birth certificate into the bathroom. It might cause us to lose every Super Bowl, every national championship game—not to mention, how could Amazon consider a second headquarters in Texas if we’re having this argument right now? How many jobs do you lose? The sacrifice we would have to make over something that has zero data to support it is bizarre.”

Like I said, we’ll see. I’m glad to see someone with a brand name express an interest in the race, and he’s already got the right message on the bathroom bill. Beyond that, I’m going to need to hear a lot more, and I’m going to need to hear some good answers. It’s not just that “conservative Democrat” doesn’t excite me, it’s that we’ve tried this strategy of wooing “moderate” Republicans before, in the last two elections, and we don’t have a whole lot to show for it. In a world where base Democratic turnout is at parity with base Republican turnout, that kind of plan makes sense. In a world where their base is a million voters bigger than ours, it’s a proven loser.

So that’s what I mean when I say I need to hear more. What message does Andrew White have for Democratic voters? “Sanctuary cities”, access to health care, voting rights, criminal justice reform, public education – I’m just getting started. White now has a Facebook page and AndrewWhite.com up, though they are both bare bones at this time. The bathroom bill stuff is a good start. I hope he builds on that. The Trib has more.

RIP, Mark White

Former Texas Governor Mark White has passed away.

Mark White

Former Gov. Mark White, who championed education reforms while serving as Texas governor from 1983 to 1987, died Saturday in Houston. He was 77.

Julian Read, a close friend of White who served as press secretary to Gov. John Connally during the 1960s a confidant to many Texas governors since then, confirmed that White suffered a heart attack at his Houston home.

White, who was born March 17, 1940, graduated from Lamar High School and Baylor University. He received his law degree from Baylor Law School in 1965.

[…]

White’s signature legislation as governor was an education bill that implemented Texas’ first-ever statewide testing standards and the well-known “no pass, no play” rule that required students to maintain passing grades to play sports. It also mandated class-size limits and teacher pay raises — legislation that required a tax hike and ultimately cost White a chance at reelection.

I came to Texas in 1984, so White is the first Governor I experienced, though I don’t remember much of his tenure as I was a college student and not paying that much attention to state politics. Everyone I know holds him in high regard, and his education reform legacy lives on to this day. Rest in peace, Mark White. The Trib and RG Ratcliffe have more.

The slow decline of the death penalty in Texas

Maybe a little.

Perhaps nothing symbolizes this state’s swagger over being tough on crime like “Old Sparky,” an electric chair that was used to execute 361 inmates and is now the centerpiece of a prison museum.

It sits just minutes from the Texas penitentiary where it was forever unplugged 50 years ago this summer following the execution of Houston’s Joseph Johnson Jr. for murdering a grocer.

While the oak chair is now a capital punishment relic photographed daily by visitors, this state’s death row is undergoing what looks to be a historic shift.

Texas forged an international reputation as it has executed far more inmates than any other state in the nation since 1982, when it resumed capital punishment with lethal injection. But this year, Texas just may lose its distinction as the state carrying out the most executions annually, sitting in a three-way tie with Missouri and Florida. Each state has executed seven people so far this year.

In Texas, a slew of changes in capital punishment that have been trotted out over the past decade or so and are taking hold. Those include requiring better legal representation for people facing the death penalty, giving jurors the option of sentencing defendants to life in prison without parole, and increasing the use of DNA and other scientific testing. And significant to the change is the realization by lawmakers and others that the system that condemns someone is not bulletproof.

The state executed an average of 29 people annually from 1997 to 2007, with 40 in 2000, according to statistics maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center. But it is now on track to have no more than 11 this year, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the fewest number in 23 years.

Texas is not getting weaker on crime, but getting smarter about who is sentenced to death by reducing the chances of condemning an innocent person, said former Texas Gov. Mark White.

“We are starting to recognize that being tough on crime doesn’t mean you have to be tough on innocent people,” White said. “We have learned a lot: use the cutting edge of science, and not just the fast draw of the Old West.”

Not sure how much credit I’m willing to give the Lege for this, other than the passage of life without parole, which has definitely had an effect. If there’s a greater awareness about wrongful convictions and the need to safeguard against them, it’s mostly due to the efforts of groups like the Innocence Project, local officials like Dallas County DA Craig Watkins, and the compelling stories of exonerated men like Michael Morton, Anthony Graves, and the late Timothy Cole. The fact that insufficient enthusiasm for the death penalty can still be used as a political attack suggests we haven’t come that far from the old days. Though I am not a death penalty abolitionist, I will be perfectly happy if this trend continues.

Still more on class size limits

Real good article in the Press about class size limits and the possible effects of raising them, which I’ve written about before. A couple of points:

A famous education study done in Tennessee in the 1980s shows class size matters. In the four-year Project STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio) study, kindergarten-through-third-grade classes with 13-17 students in them were compared to those with 22-26 students, and the researchers found out, in fact, that smaller meant better in terms of academic milestones. A followup study showed the effect continues for several years.

But what many administrators now like to say is that class size doesn’t matter till you get down to 15, [State Rep. Scott] Hochberg says. So if you can’t do that, you might as well throw up your hands. Which is not what the study says. The study just compared two groups and said that of these two groups, those with an average of 15 did better.

“It didn’t say until you get to 15 there’s no difference,” Hochberg says. “How you twist that into ‘There’s no difference till you get down to 15’ is pure propaganda.”

And, as it turns out, according to the Tennessee study, smaller class sizes are especially beneficial for kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds — which describes a majority of students in HISD and, in fact, a significant portion of the student population across the Houston area.

“You don’t see successful charter schools operating with 50 kids in a class,” Hochberg says.

First, the person I’ve heard cite that 15 figure the most often is House Public Education Chair Rob Eissler. I’ve come to learn that there’s quite a body of research on class size and its effects – the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association has a bunch of citations, all of which clearly support the idea that smaller class sizes lead to better results. Further, here’s Leonie Haimson with some specific information:

Myth: There is a threshold that has to be reached before class size reduction provides benefits.

Since STAR involved comparing outcomes between students in classes of 22 to 25 students and those in classes of 13 to 17, many critics have argued that classes have to be reduced to a certain level to provide benefits.

Yet Alan Krueger of Princeton University analyzed the STAR results for the control group of students who were in the “larger” classes and found that within this range, the smaller the class, the better the outcome.

Indeed, esteemed researchers such as Peter Blatchford have found that there is no particular threshold that must be reached before students receive benefits from smaller classes, and any reduction in class size increases the probability that they will be on-task and positively engaged in learning.

Haimson runs a blog called Class Size Matters, in case you want more.

Back to the article:

In 2006, Governor Rick Perry ordered school districts to cut local property tax, saying the state would make up the difference.

“The state’s new taxes to make up the difference didn’t made up the difference,” Hochberg says. “And so since that bill was passed in ’06, we haven’t had an internally balanced budget at the state level. We’ve been short every time. We covered it the first time because we had a surplus coming in. We covered it the second time with stimulus money — that nasty, awful stimulus money from Washington that we don’t want to touch.

“We were 4 billion short on the budget last time without the stimulus money, and that’s on a zero-growth budget. State revenues haven’t balanced the budget for the last two cycles since those cuts were made.”

I’ve talked about this a lot, so it’s nothing new to us. Sometimes I wonder how the Governor’s race would have gone in 2010 if there had been no stimulus in 2009, and the Lege had had to deal with a budget deficit that was projected to be in the $8 to $10 billion range back then. Then I get depressed and think happy thoughts instead. The bill for that tax cut is due now, and it will come due again in the future until we fix the underlying problem.

Mercy is a rare quality

I’ve never doubted that Rick Perry isn’t particularly interested in looking for opportunities to grant clemency to death row inmates. But there’s a big question that needs to be answered by this story and isn’t.

Texas has executed 200 convicts under Perry’s watch, but he has spared just one condemned man’s life in a case in which he was not compelled to do so by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, the inmate Perry saved in 2007 was not a killer but the admitted driver of a getaway car, condemned alongside the triggerman in a joint trial under Texas’ tough “law of parties.”

Clemency — the use of executive power to reduce, forgive or delay a sentence — is considered the last fail-safe in the death penalty review process nationwide.

Yet in Texas, it is almost never granted. In fact, at least 50 of the past 200 executions were carried out without any clemency board review at all, a Chronicle analysis of state execution and parole board statistics shows. Other death row inmates’ final pleas for mercy were rejected for arriving after the board’s deadline.

That’s bad, very bad. It’s below the meager minimum standards I’d expect for this – what, is it too much trouble for the board to review a document before rubberstamping another lethal injection? It’s more evidence that our entire system is out of whack and needs a real top-to-bottom review if it wants to claim that it really is justice.

But what isn’t clear is how Perry compares to other Texas governors in this regard. We know by now that the clemency process was slipshod and careless under George Bush. That information might have been useful in this story. I seem to recall reading that Ann Richards never commuted a death sentence, though that doesn’t say anything about how she made her decisions. I know nothing about how things were under Bill Clements or Mark White. Maybe some of this information isn’t easily accessible now, but whatever we do know would have been nice to have had in the story, if only so we could tell how much of this problem is Rick Perry, and how much of it is the process itself. I suspect it’s more the former than the latter, but I’d prefer not to have to guess.

Parker to announce for Mayor today

City Controller Annise Parker will formally announce has candidacy for Mayor today.

“Houstonians want a mayor who can lead the city through tough economic times, and a mayor who can continue our forward progress with jobs and neighborhoods,” she said in an interview last week.

“I have the skill set to do these things,” she added as she prepared her announcement — an e-mail blast referring voters to an online video of her speaking to voters.

Parker, 52, started thinking about running for mayor long before the nation’s economic picture grew dark. But now that, in her words, “the No. 1 issue is going to be the economy and jobs,” Parker is touting the ways she can cut city expenses. She’s also worked as an engineering technologist for an oil company and as co-owner several years ago of a feminist bookstore.

[…]

She has about $230,000 in leftover funds from prior campaigns and is announcing her mayoral candidacy on the first day candidates are allowed under city ordinance to raise money for the contest.

Councilman Peter Brown also is running for mayor, and others edging close to joining the race include former City Attorneys Gene Locke and Benjamin Hall III, former Gov. Mark White and Harris County Department of Education Trustee Roy Morales.

As with District H, I intend to keep an open mind for as long as possible about who my preferred choice for Mayor is. I like Parker and Brown, and I don’t really know enough about Locke or Hall or White to fairly assess their candidacies. (I’m pretty sure I won’t be voting for Roy Morales. Sorry, Roy.) Having said that, if the election were today, Annise Parker would get my vote. I think she’s got the best combination of skills and experiences. Still, I want to see how the campaign goes and how the candidates engage the issues. I want to hear what everyone has to say.

Parker got her start in local politics as a civic association president and leader of what is now the Houston Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual & Transgender Political Caucus.

Gay rights and the candidates’ personal lives have been broached as issues in most major Houston mayoral races of the last 30 years. About the voters’ mindset on those topics, Parker said, “Houstonians are interested in who can manage the city.”

She said that because of her previous campaigns, “Houstonians know me.”

I will say this: Any candidate who makes an issue of Parker’s sexuality, or who doesn’t distance himself from an ally who does, will be rejected from consideration for my vote. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, that’s how it will be.

UPDATE: The email announcing Parker’s entry into the race is out. Her website is here, complete with a blog and an announcement video that’s also available on YouTube. Email is reproduced beneath the fold.

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Locke files his treasurer’s report

Former City Attorney Gene Locke has filed his treasurer’s report for the Mayor’s race. I’ve got his press release beneath the fold. He was joined in doing so by City Controller Annise Parker and (be still my heart!) Roy Morales, who says he plans to “merely raise money with which to explore the idea of running”. And if that isn’t a vision that will have them swooning in the aisles, I don’t know what is.

There are two other hopefuls who have not yet filed their reports. One is Council Member Peter Brown, whom everyone knows is running. The other is another former City Attorney, Benjamin Hall, who apparently was about to announce his entry into the race until he got a phone call from Locke. What happened isn’t clear, but Locke has made his announcement, and Hall as yet has not. And a lot of people I know are talking about it.

Today’s Chron talks about how the Mayor’s race keeps starting earlier and earlier – in 1991, Bob Lanier and Sylvester Turner made their announcements in the summer, and that was to challenge an incumbent, Kathy Whitmire. The story also notes that former Gov. Mark White is apparently “still strongly considering entering the race”, which is the first I can recall hearing of him in awhile. I really don’t see what his path to victory is, but stranger things have happened.

And finally, a note on campaign tactics:

When the Internet was not yet in general use, Lanier and Turner used debates, news coverage and heavy advertising on TV and radio to promote their candidacies.

This year’s contenders will use those tools and go far beyond, [Rice University political scientist Bob] Stein said, following the Obama campaign’s use of on-line networking and fundraising, as well as using computerized data about voting habits and other demographics to identify and contact likely supporters.

Building word of mouth through Facebook, Twitter and other online avenues, along with the “micro-targeting” of voters, takes time that most previous mayoral campaigns never allowed, according to Stein.

I’ve got invitations to join Facebook groups for Annise Parker and Peter Brown, though I haven’t taken either of them up yet. If any other candidates have such things going for them at this time, I’ve not gotten notice of them. Both Annise Parker and Roy Morales are on Twitter, though neither has done much with it – Parker has tweeted three times total, Morales has been silent since January 15. The campaigns may be starting earlier, but that doesn’t mean all aspects of them are geared up.

At the City Council level, District H candidate Ed Gonzalez takes the early lead in the social networking race, as he’s the first of that group (that I know of) to get on Twitter. Which he used to announce his new blog. Karen Derr has had one of those for awhile, but as far as I know Ed’s the only one on Twitter. Both of them, plus Maverick Welsh and Hugo Mojica, are on Facebook. I’m sure things will get going more quickly in this race, given the much shorter time frame for it.

UPDATE: Over in Austin, mayoral hopeful Carole Keeton Strayhorn is thrilled about the grassroots twitter. I don’t think I can add anything to that.

UPDATE: And you can add Maverick Welsh to Twitter.

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